Behavior: What do pikas do?
- Pikas are generalist herbivores, meaning they only eat plants, but will eat any kind of plant they can find.
- - Wildflowers and grasses are their favorite foods, but they also eat pine needles, raspberry bushes, and even thistles. Ouch!
- An average pika has to eat 54.8 kcal per day, which means they eat enough to fill their stomach 9 times every day!
- Scientists think that pikas get most of their water from their food, but several researchers have also seen pikas drinking from lakes, ponds, and streams.
- To try to get all the nutrition they can out of their food, pikas eat it twice.
- - Yes, that’s right…just like most of their rabbit relatives, pikas are coprophagic, meaning they eat their own poop!
- Pikas don’t sleep much, at least not as much as some of their neighbors. Even though pikas live in really cold places, they DON’T hibernate. They stay awake (at least during the day) under the snow all winter long!
FILLING THE PANTRY:
Pikas don't hibernate, they live in cold places with lots of snow, and they only eat plants. How does that work? Haypiles!
- Pikas store food for themselves in the rocks.
- They spend most of their time in summer clipping plants off from nearby meadows or shrubs and stuffing those plants into either one giant haypile or often several smaller haypiles.
- Pikas clip plants off with their impressively sharp, rabbit-like teeth.
- Some researchers have found even though pikas are generalists, they are pickier than you’d think. Some pikas pick plants that are more nutritious and preserve their nutrient levels better over winter.
DEFENDING THE PANTRY:
Imagine spending all day, every day, all summer long collecting a big food supply for yourself. You’d want to be sure no one steals it, right? Right!
- TERRITORIAL: Pikas each have a set territory that they defend. Usually their haypile(s) are at the center of these territories, which average around 80 feet in diameter (25 m).
- ALL BARK, (ALMOST) NO BITE: Unlike most of their rabbit relatives, pikas are VERY vocal. They essentially yell at each other all day long to ensure all their neighbors understand which haypile is theirs. If their neighbors don’t listen to their warnings, they sometimes resort to biting battles, which aren’t pretty!
- WHEN THEY CALL: Pikas call anytime another animal (pika or human!) approaches their territory. They also call before and after every “grocery” run to the nearest meadow. Pikas also call when they see a predator, like a hawk or a dog.
WHAT DOES A PIKA SOUND LIKE?:
Pikas make two different calls:
- A short call is used to defend a haypile or announce the presence of a predator and usually consists of one or two notes.
- A long call is only used by male pikas and is often a series of repeated, short notes. Researchers aren’t sure why male pikas long call, but these calls are most common during reproduction.
Pika calls sound different in different places. They have different accents or dialects, just like American humans do.
- Click here to hear a Southern Rocky Mountain pika
- Click here to hear a Northern Rocky Mountain pika
- Click here to hear a long call from the Southern Rockies