Oregon Zoo’s pika watch is back on

Volunteers interested in mapping American pika populations in the Columbia River Gorge are invited to free training sessions May 9-11.

A small rodent with short round ears sits among rocky terrain holding a daisy in its mouth as the sun lights it from behind.

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

Photo by Linda Steider

The Columbia River Gorge is home to a creature so cute and cuddly, it’s almost impossible not to “awww” if you encounter one while hiking.

Meet the American pika — pronounced “pie-ka” — not to be confused with a certain electric mouse Pokémon beloved by ‘90s kids. These potato-sized cousins of rabbits and hares spend their lives among the rocky slopes of the Cascades, squeaking by in spite of the harsh alpine conditions.

Only 30 miles or so east of Portland, the pika colony in the Gorge is a bit of an enigma, as they exist at much lower elevations (only a few hundred feet above sea level) than other populations. Cascades Pika Watch is dedicated to gathering more data this summer.

The volunteer group of citizen scientists conducts sitting surveys over several months to track and log pika populations in the region. No special skills are required and all areas are accessible by public trails, though the Oregon Zoo will offer free crash courses in-person, Thursday, May 9-Saturday, May 11, and online.

American pika are an indicator species and particularly sensitive to temperatures at either extreme, which means they get extra attention from researchers studying the effects of climate change.

Even if you don’t have the time to commit to an official observation, hikers are encouraged to record sightings on the Pika Patrol mobile app.

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