Oregon Zoo Needs Pika Watchers

Looking for cuteness this summer? The Oregon Zoo is recruiting volunteers to seek out one of the Columbia River Gorge’s fluffiest residents: the American pika. 

Cascades Pika Watch is a collaboration between organizations and citizen scientists convened by the zoo to locate and map pika populations. On May 11, 12 and 13, the zoo is offering free crash courses on how to identify pikas and participate in the project. 

Pikas are potato-sized members of the rabbit family, known for their squeak-toy alarm calls frequently heard among the rocky slopes of the Cascade volcanoes throughout the Columbia River Gorge. 

“The Columbia River Gorge is the lowest elevation where we find this species,” said Cascades Pika Watch scientific advisor Dr. Johanna Varner. “We can learn a lot from monitoring them in this unusual habitat.” 

Pikas’ particular habitat and temperature requirements may make them especially vulnerable to global warming — and especially interesting to biologists studying the effects of climate change. Pika Watch volunteers helped document the gorge population’s recovery following the 2017 Eagle Creek fire, and they’re eager to learn more. 

“By being eyes and ears on the ground, citizen scientists with Cascades Pika Watch can help us understand what’s happening with the pikas in this region,” said Varner. “It’s a perfect opportunity to get outdoors and make a meaningful contribution to conservation science.” 

Cascades Pika Watch volunteers conduct regular surveys to track pika presence across the region. Sites are accessed via public hiking trails, and no special skills are required. Volunteers have the option to receive in-person or virtual training on how to identify pikas in the field. They then choose survey sites, where they scan boulders for signs of movement while listening for the pika’s signature squeaks. 

Source: Oregon Zoo

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