Meet Palmer the American Pika!
Palmer is a small, furry mammal that lives high above treeline in the western mountains of North America.
In fact, pikas are at home right in our own backyard on Pikes Peak and other high-altitude Colorado locations.
Pikas like Palmer are small — from 5 to 9 inches long, with short legs, furred feet and small, rounded ears.
Though pikas resemble large hamsters, they are actually related to rabbits! Their soft, gray fur keeps them warm and helps them blend in to the rocks of the alpine tundra and subalpine forests.
Pika are herbivores, which means they eat grasses, leaves and wildflowers. They are active year round, but their rocky homes are covered in snow much of the year. So your best chance to see them is during summer when they scurry around building “haystacks” in the crevices of boulders to provide food during the winter.
You may never actually see a pika, since they are so well camouflaged. But listen for their distinct high-pitched “eek” next time you are on a rocky slope above the trees. They are very vocal and squeak loudly to communicate with other pika and to warn of predators.
Sadly, pikas are threatened by changes of our climate, such as warmer summers and decreased snowpack in winter. They are so efficient at keeping their bodies warm, they can’t tolerate high temperatures. Since they already live in the highest and coolest parts of the mountains, they do not have anywhere to go as temperatures warm.
Want to find out how you can help pikas? Go to pikapartners.org.
The Front Range Pika Project
The Front Range Pika Project (FRPP) is a citizen science program that engages the public in conservation research on the American pika. FRPP volunteers follow monitoring protocols to collect data on the status of pika and their habitat characteristics, thereby contributing to an understanding of the potential impacts of climate change on pika populations and alpine ecosystems across Colorado. One of the longest running citizen science projects studying pika, this project provides long-term data that is needed by researchers and wildlife managers to aid the conservation of this little-understood alpine species and its associated habitats. Contribute to pika monitoring studies currently underway throughout the West and help us better understand this native Colorado species!
The FRPP is launching a new app in Spring 2019 to allow everyday citizens to assist in this project without having to go through the more time-intensive training currently underway. Check back to their website at http://www.pikapartners.org to learn how you and your family can get involved!