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American Bison

American Bison


American Bison Baby
American Bison Baby

American Bison Habits

Bison live in small herds of approximately fifty animals. The herds provides defense against predators such as wolf and coyote. Although the bison's senses of smell and hearing are sharp, its vision is poor. Since bison often do not recognize danger until it is too late to flee, the females will surround their young and the bulls will surround the females, shielding them from their attackers. Bison spend most of the day grazing in small groups. But where the grazing is particularly good, and during the two annual migrations, hundreds of bison may gather together to feed. They also take frequent mud or dust baths. The bison is adapted to withstand the great temperature extremes of its range, which once extended from Canada to Mexico. It grows a dark, warm, shaggy coat which is shed each spring. It is replaced by a shorter, lighter summer coat.
When North America was first settled, the bison ranged over a third of the continent. Several hundred years later, it was nearly extinct. The wholesale slaughter of the bison began at the end of the eighteenth century. Unlike the Plains Indians, who only killed as much as they could use, American settlers shot bison by the thousands for their meat and skin, for farmland, and for sport. Entire herds were quickly wiped out. In 1905, the American Bison Society was formed to preserve the relatively few remaining animals. Today the species is considered safe from extinction.

American Bison Communication

Bison communicate by hearing and smell. The most important communication is done with pheromones and smells, especially during reproduction. Bison also grunt, snort and growl.

American Bison Breeding

For most of the year, females and young males live together in small herds. Mature bulls either live alone or band together in smaller groups. During the mating season from July to September, the bulls fight over those females that are ready to mate. In her prime, a female will calve every other year. Rival males attempt to warn one another off by stamping the ground and bellowing loudly. If neither bulls backs down, they will charge each other, butting their heads together in a contest of strength. The winner will mate with the female and stand guard over her for several days. Calves weigh about 65 pounds at birth and are able to stand within a few hours.

American Bison Food & Feeding

The bison feeds mainly on grass and other succulent vegetation. Methodical grazers, a herd can cover up to 2 miles a day in in search of grass. Food is chewed and swallowed, then regurgitated and chewed again. This method of digestion is known as rumination, more commonly called chewing cud. In addition to its daily forages, the bison also makes seasonal journeys in search of fresh pastures. Before its numbers were reduced, the bison migrated in vast herds, moving north in spring and south in fall. Today, although its range is far more limited, bison in Alberta, Canada still migrate 150 miles each spring and fall.

American Bison Key Facts

              Height: 5-6 feet. Length: Head and body, 7-11 ft. Tail, 20-24 in.
              Weight: Males, up to 2,200 lb. Females, up to 1,320 lb
             Sexual maturity: Females, 2-4 years. Males, much later
             Mating: July-September
             Gestation: 270-300 days
             Number of young: 1
            Habit: Sociable and migratory
            Diet: Mainly grass
            Lifespan: 20 years in wild, up to 40 years in captivity



  • It is estimated that there were once between 40 and 60 million bison in North America.
  • Some North American Indian tribes relied almost entirely on bison for their food and clothing.
  • In the United States, the bison is more often called the buffalo, although it is not closely related to the true buffalo found in Africa. Zoologists prefer the name bison.
  • The only place in the United States where the bison has never been driven out of its range is Yellowstone National Park.
  • American bison can reach speeds of up to 35 miles per hour.

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