CENTRAL OREGON WILDLIFE
PIKAS, RABBITS & HARES
American Pika (Ochotona princeps)
The pika requires talus, creviced rock, and other high elevation microhabitats that provide cool microclimates and adequate forage. A major factor limiting distribution is temperature; they cannot tolerate temperatures above 77°F for more than a few hours.
They have been found in low elevation lava flows of Newberry Volcanic National Monument. Research of pikas is ongoing and is being done in various western states. Preliminary information from the studies has shown that the pika’s behavior in the lower elevation lava flows is different than that of pikas living at higher elevations.
Older studies indicate pikas have two main periods of feeding during the summer and early fall, between 4:30 and 10:00 in the morning and between 3:00 and 8:00 in the late afternoon and evening, but some activity is ongoing during the daylight hours. Beginning in early June, adult pika gather vegetation from the meadow and transport it to their own territory within the talus, where, once it is dried by the sun, they store it under the protective cover of the boulders. This activity, called haying, continues until the beginning of November. Hay piles alone are not sufficient to provide food during the winter, and some foraging occurs via snow tunnels.
Pygmy Rabbit (Brachylagus idahoensis)
In Oregon, Pygmy rabbits have been found east and south of a line connecting Klamath Falls, Fremont, Redmond, and Baker City. This rabbit is closely tied to habitats dominated by big sagebrush and loose soil for digging burrows. Population has declined in Oregon as a result of conversion of habitat to agriculture and fragmentation of remaining habitat. Studies show that 40% brush cover of an area is optimal, and they do not occupy areas with less than 20%. They need deep, loose soil to dig their burrow. They are the only rabbit in North America to dig their own burrows; they will also use the burrows of other animals. They are active any time of day; they rest under sagebrush or in burrows that are constructed at the base of sagebrush. Their diet is various parts of sagebrush also grasses in the spring.
Mountain Cottontail (Sylvilagus nuttallii)
The Mountain cottontail rabbit lives in rocky ravines or riparian thickets in sagebrush-covered deserts. It also is found in juniper woodland and around the edges of Ponderosa Pine forests but not at high elevations in mountains. They are mainly active at dawn and dusk. These rabbits are not very fast so they keep within easy reach of rocky cover where they are skillful at running over masses of broken lava. Their food in summer is mainly green vegetation, which supplies both food and water. Dependent on the area, their diet may include quantities of shrubs such as sagebrush and rabbitbrush. As food sources become more limited in the winter months, their diet may turn to more woody plant parts such as bark and twigs.
The Mountain cottontail is also known to climb juniper trees to feed.
Photo: Justin Wilde
Snowshoe Hare (Lepus americanus)
The snowshoe hare lives in coniferous forests with appropriate brushy cover. This includes riparian vegetation along streams and thickets of salal. These hares are primarily active during the evening and throughout the night into the early morning. In summer, it feeds on plants such as grass, ferns, and leaves; in winter, it eats twigs,and the bark from trees. Snowshoe hares are brown in summer and throughout most of its range, the species molts into a white winter coat.
Both sexes frequently thump their hind feet on the ground. The thumping is surprisingly loud and can be heard for some distance. Young are born from about the middle of April through the middle of August. Snowshoe hares are not fully grown until they are about five months old.
Photos: D. Gordon E. Robertson, Walter Siegmund
Black-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus)
Black-tailed jackrabbits are found in open habits of fields and desert areas with scattered sagebrush. In the summer it eats a wide-variety of green plants, and in the winter it eats dried and woody plants. The black-tailed jackrabbit gets most of the water it needs from the plants it eats.
Black-tailed Jackrabbits do not generally occupy burrows: rather, they usually spend the day resting in a scraped out hollow in the shade. They feed in the late afternoon and the night. They are mainly unsociable but are driven to common food sources in periods of drought.
Black-tailed jackrabbits rely on speed, camouflage, and “freeze” behavior for their defense. When flushed from cover, a black-tail can spring 20 feet at a bound and reach top speeds of 30-35 mph over a zigzag course.
Photo: Jim Harper
White-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus townsendii)
It inhabits open regions such as sagebrush deserts and grasslands, but can also be found in open areas in coniferous forests and alpine meadows. They feed on grasses and other green plants. During winter, their diet includes buds, twigs, and bark. They feed mainly from sunset to sunrise. During the day they rest in shallow forms which are dug into the earth 4 to 8 inch in depth and are usually under some form of plant cover. They are unsocial, though large groups of white-tailed jackrabbits have been observed during extreme winter cold or in areas of abundant food.
Elaborate and well-travelled trails may be observed that connect forms between often visited feeding sites. In winter snow, they travel through cave-like structures joined with many connecting tunnels.