American Bison (Bison bison)


Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family:    Bovidae
Size:    Height: 5 to 6 feet (1.5 to 1.8 m) at the shoulders
Weight: Up to 2,200 pounds (998 kg)
Diet: Grass and plants
Distribution: North America
Young:  1 calf every 1 or 2 years
Animal Predators:  Wolves and coyotes
IUCN Status: Lower Risk, Conservation Dependent
Terms: Male: Bull   Female: Cow   Young: Calf
Lifespan: 20 to 40 years



·       In 1900, there were only a few hundred surviving bison in North America.

·       In 1894, bison hunting became illegal in Yellowstone National Park.

·       Despite their massive size, bison are known for their amazing speed and agility.

·       White bison are revered by Native Americans. 

·       Although zoologists prefer the name bison, American bison are often referred to as buffalo.

·       If a Native American child’s name included the word “buffalo,” it was believed that the child would be especially strong and mature quickly.



These huge animals are covered in dark brown fur. The fur is longer on their head and shoulders than on their hind end. Both males and females have horns, but the horns of the males are stronger and thicker. They have a massive head and their humped shoulders are the tallest point on these animals. 



Although bison once roamed the plains of Canada and the United States, they are now limited to a few scattered parks, including wild herds in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Wood Buffalo Park, Northwest Territories, as well as several privately owned reserves. 


Feeding Habits

Bison  graze mostly on various types of grass, but sometimes will eat berries, lichens and horsetails. They need to drink on a daily basis, so they do not wander too far from a water source. 


Calves weigh between 25 and 40 pounds (11.3 to 18 kg) at birth and are born in April or May. They can stand within hours, and have yellowish or reddish fur that gradually grows darker as they age. Mothers are very protective of their calves and will charge at intruders. 



Bison live in herds consisting of females and juveniles, or bachelor groups of males. The males join up with the females in July, during mating season. When travelling, bison often walk in single file, and when crossing a river, they will only go in small groups, waiting for the previous group to reach the other side safely before entering the water. They are strong swimmers, able to swim up to 37 miles (60 km) per hour. Bison are not migratory animals, but they are constantly on the move in search of food, usually travelling at a rate of two miles (3.2 km) per day. Bison have poor vision, and often do not detect danger until it is too late to run. In that case, the females will shield the calves by surrounding them, while the males will make a circle surrounding the females, facing outwards towards the predators. 



It is estimated that between 50 and 75 million bison existed in North America in the early 1800s. Native Americans of the plains depended on these animals for food and clothing. When white settlers began to take over the land, they killed bison in great numbers for several reasons, including making way for farm land and for sport. There were several different types of bison, such as the wood bison of the east, which today exists only in small numbers, and the mountain bison of the west, which became extinct before scientists could study them to any extent. Today, more than 65,000 bison roam U.S. and Canadian national parks and ranges as well as privately owned rangelands. The wood bison (Bison bison athabascae), a northern subspecies of the American bison, only lives in Canada and is considered threatened by Environment Canadas COSEWIC. 



American Bison Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, US