If you plan on hiking this summer, consider helping the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) collect data about pikas! Your observations could help biologists better monitor pika populations, which is critical for understanding how to protect these critters.
A little about pikas
American pikas are small, round, rodent-like herbivores that are about 6–8 inches long — about the size of a russet potato. They look similar to hamsters with their big, round ears and are often mistaken for marmots, but they have no visible tail. In Washington, they are found primarily in high elevations of the Cascade Range. However, they have been known to also be found in the Columbia River Gorge.
Pikas are adapted to living in a unique environment. You’re most likely to encounter a pika in high mountain areas with rocky talus slopes, often above the tree line. Talus is the piles of rocks that accumulate at the base of cliffs or slopes. Pikas utilize the small spaces between the rocks for protection and to den. They’re generalist herbivores, which means they eat a variety of plants, like grasses, ferns, wildflowers, and more depending on their availability. Learn more about pikas here.
Why pikas need our help
Pikas are particularly susceptible to changes in their environment due to their specific habitat requirements, low reproductive rate, and limited ability to move to new locations. They are adapted to cooler temperatures and are sensitive to temperatures above 78 degrees. In the winter, they rely on snowpacks to insulate themselves from inclement weather. As climate change brings rising temperatures, pikas are forced into even higher elevations — narrowing their suitable habitat ranges and putting them at risk of species decline. As a result, pikas have become an indicator species, or a canary in a coal mine if you will, for climate change.
How you can help
If you plan on going hiking in an area where pikas may live, download our pika observation survey in the ArcGIS Survey 123 app beforehand. Use it to record your pika observations. You’ll often hear a pika before you see it, so be prepared to take an audio recording or a picture, which you can do in the ArcGIS Survey 123 app.
“What if I normally use a different wildlife observation app?”
Using the ‘Pika Observations’ survey in the ArcGIS Survey 123 app allows for consistent verification of the data — your submission goes directly to a biologist. While we do occasionally use other wildlife observation apps to check for sightings and verifications, we often lack the capacity to consistently monitor them.
Identifying Pikas & Their Sign
How to download the ‘Pika Observation’ survey
You must do the instructions below on your smartphone. Please read completely before beginning.
- On your smartphone, download the ArcGIS ‘Survey 123’ app, available for both iOS and Android.
- Open the ArcGIS Survey 123 app. You may get a pop-up asking to allow permissions for location, photos, recordings, camera use, etc. Click to Allow.
- Click ‘Continue without signing in’
- On your smartphone, return to this page and click this link. A ‘Pika Observation’ form should load in the Survey 123 app.
- Enter your pika data! We love receiving photos because they help us confirm the sighting is in fact a pika.
- To record another observation, return to the ArcGIS ‘Survey 123’ app and select ‘Pika Observation’ form.
“What if I don’t have an internet connection when collecting data?”
When you attempt to submit your observation form, the app will ask if you’d like to ‘save in outbox’. If you select this option, you will be able to submit the form once you regain your internet connection. This means you may need to edit the location data in the survey to reflect the location (best as possible) where you observed the pika.
[Post courtesy of the WDFW]