American Bison

American Bison Bos bison

Type of Animal:
Wild Cattle

Plains, prairies, river valleys, grasslands, sagebrush, semi-arid areas, scrubland, woodlands, non-steep mountainous areas, hilly areas, savannas, semi-desert, boreal forest, meadows, scrub forest, boreal parklands

Formerly ranged from Alaska, Yukon, NW Territories, E. British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan & S. Manitoba through much of non-coastal continental U.S. into NE Mexico. Now found in pockets of Alaska, W. & C. Canada, & W. & C. U.S into parts of Midwest. Reintroduction into NE Mexico & project being done in Sakha Republic (Yakutia) in Russia to rewild extinct Steppe Bison.

Long, shaggy brown fur, shoulder hump more pronounced in bulls. Wood subspecies larger than Plains subspecies. Wood bison darker than plains bison. Plains bison round hump, wood bison squarer hump. Plains bison stockier w/ larger beard, wood bison taller w/ smaller pointed beard. Calves orange-red for 1st few months.

Grasses, sedges, berries, lichens, small shrubs, small plant growth, twigs

Status in Wild:

Breeding on farms, ranches, zoos, and wildlife parks. Rewilding project in Sakha Republic (Yakutia) in Russia rewilding extinct Steppe Bison started in 2006 derived from Bison from Elk Island National Park, Alberta. Reintroduced to N. Mexico to Janos Biosphere Reserve in Chihuahua in 2009 & Maderas del Carmen in 2020.

Cows, calves & juveniles live in herds ranging from 15-150 individuals, sometimes accompanied by 1-5 bulls. Other bulls found in bachelor herds of 5-30 animals. Herds were even larger in the past.

Additional Info:


Male-1,200 lbs- 1 ton
Female-700-900 lbs
Young-275 lbs

9.5 months

Male-6 ft
Female-4-5 ft

Body Length:
Male-7.5-10.5 ft
Female-6.5-9.5 ft

Life Span: 
15-20 years in the wild. Up to 40 years in captivity

Tail Length:
Male-1.5-2.5 ft
Female-0.5-1.5 ft

Source of meat for many people and farmed for this reason.

Wallow to give themselves dust baths. Bulls wallow to intimidate rivals.

Only natural predators of adults are wolves and bears. Coyotes and cougars only prey on calves.

Bulls get into violent fights during rut (breeding season).

Known to bellow, grunt, & moo.

Bison almost became extinct in late 1800’s due to hunting for meat & hide or just for sport. Many American settlers killed bison so Native Americans would starve. Bison staple to many Native American cultures. Native Americans used every part of bison, not just meat and hide.

Bronx Zoo performed early conservation effort in 1907. 15 bison sent to Wichita Mountains Wildlife Preserve in Oklahoma from Bronx Zoo at this time.

American Bison Society (ABS) founded in 1905 by Teddy Roosevelt & William Temple Hornaday.

While they have poor eyesight, they have excellent sense of smell/hearing.

Fun Facts:
Can run up to 35 mph.

*GOOD WORD OF ADVICE* Never approach a wild bison. In Yellowstone National Park, more people have died from bison attacks than from bear attacks. The most dangerous bison would be (1) A bull in rut (breeding season) and/or (2) A cow defending her calf.

National mammal of U.S.

Bison calves sometimes called “red dogs” due to being orange-red when first born.

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