INSTRUCTIONS FOR PIKA SURVEYS
Contact for questions & address to send Survey Form:
Connie Millar, USDA Forest Service, PSW Research Station, Albany & Lee Vining, CA
Ph: 510-559-6435, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Survey Methods: Time your search for 30 minutes and indicate either pika seen, pika sign found, or no sign of pika.
Search for pika and pika sign in preferred habitat: talus fields (boulder slopes of diverse types) with open rock matrix;
optimal clast (rock) sizes ranging from 25-90cm; minimal fine sediments or soil within the talus; sloping terrain from
shallow to steep; above 1800m but more common above 3000m (for central southern Sierra Nevada & central Great
Basin). No obvious preference for aspect or substrate type. Preferred talus locations are adjacent to patches of
herbaceous vegetation (shrub and especially forbs of diverse species); conifer foliage may be used at high elevations.
Expansive talus fields without surrounding or interspersed vegetation may also be used.
If you see or hear pika, stop and fill out the form. The most distinctive pika calls are raspy, distinctive chirps (1-3
repetitions per set): “chee chee chee”. Guidebooks often indicate a “piercing whistle” but pika in California don’t make
this sound. Then look for & collect other sign as indicated on the form and below.
Search in talus first near (within ca 20m) borders with vegetation for indirect pika sign. Look deep within rock matrix
openings that are ca 30 x 30 x 30cm and have protective overhangs and escape routes into deeper rock matrix (i.e.,
not soil or compacted walls). A flashlight may help to see down and into the openings. “Sentry” or “perch” rocks are
ca 20cm diameter, often conical, and often situated on the center floor of the opening allowing a view for perched pika
out toward the talus field. Pikas sit on these perches and both pellets and urine stains accumulate on and below the
perch rock. Urine stains accumulate to about 10cm dia; much larger & “messier” urine stains are made by woodrats
and might be confused for pika except for size. Pika pellets are typically rabbit-like, totally round (like BB gunshot) ca
2-3 mm, dark when fresh, becoming white as they age, although with more aging they decompose and become dark
and “soil-like”. Collect pellets, note condition of urine stains. Fresh urine is silvery white-yellowish and smeary; old
urine is chalky white, with flaking edges and looks like old typing “white-out”. Pika (as all rabbit relatives) produce a
second type of feces known as caecal feces – these are rarely seen but are tar black, smeary & flat, ca 1cm diameter,
and occasionally can be found among collected vegetation.
Search also for “haypiles”, which are concentrated accumulations of leafy vegetation piled within talus matrices. They
can be of diverse species (not just grasses or “hay”). Because pika prefer green vegetation, their haypiles comprise
leafy branches, not piles of woody stems, the latter being woodrat sign. Branches can be up to about 30cm long.
Haypiles are solitary and usually separated by > 50m. Search also for feeding dens, which are characterized by tightly
stuffed vegetation around the basal margin of large boulders (1.5m – 3m diameters) perched amidst finer talus matrix.
Abundant pellet piles are usually intermixed with the stuffed vegetation.
Location Information. Use a GPS unit
(preferred) to record latitude, longitude, and
elevation. Identify the sites by a name related to
the general region (canyon, mountain peak), and
number sites accordingly. DO NOT RECORD
SITES <75m DISTANT FROM ONE ANOTHER
(these are likely the same animal). Note the
geomorphic landform; if possible, use taxonomy of
Millar & Westfall. 2007. Quat Intern 188: 90-104
substrate type, slope aspect,
and any additional notes or comments. If possible,
photograph: 1) pika perch/den microsite, 2) talus
site, & 3) environmental context.
Photos: 1) Typical pika pose on perch; 2) fresh urine
stain on pika perch with fresh pellets adhering; 3) fresh
pellet pile; 4) large haypile (can be many species other
than grasses) under typical feeding-den boulder; 5)
excellent pika habitat – boulder-stream RIF talus
adjacent to wetland.
Photo credits #1: A. Tshcherbina; #2-5: C. Millar