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American Bison

American Bison

American Bison
Photographer: Yunner

American Bison Range Map (USA & Canada)
American Bison Range Map (USA & Canada)

American Bison
Photographer: Buaidh

American Bison
Latin Name Bison bison
Conservation Status Near Threatened
Location USA & Canada
Colour Dark Brown
Length 2 - 3.5 m (6.6 - 11.5 ft)
Tail 30 - 91 cm (12 - 36 inches)
Weight 320 - 1,000 kgs (700 - 2,200 lbs)
Life Expectancy Up to 15 Yrs (In the wild)
Up to 25 Yrs (In captivity)

Main Characteristics

American Bison are extremely large animals and males are typically slightly larger than females. They have a body length between 2 and 3.5 m (6.6 - 11.5 ft), a tail length between 30 and 91 cms (12 - 36 inches) and they weigh between 320 and 1,000 kgs (700 - 2,200 lbs).

Both males and females have short curved horns that can grow up to 2 feet (61 cm) long. These are used for fighting for status within the herd, and also for defense against predators.

The American Bison's body is covered in hair. Although this varies in length, and the head, shoulders and front legs have significantly more coverage than the rear of the animal. The massive head of the American Bison hangs lower than the shoulders which are the tallest part of the animal. Shoulder height in the species can range from 152 to 186 cm (60 to 73 in).

American Bison have an excellent olfactory sense and it is essential in detecting danger. They also have an excellent sense of hearing and they are able to distinguish large objects from a distance of 1 km and moving objects 2 km away. American Bison can communicate vocally through grunts and snorts.

Despite their bulk American Bison are good swimmers and runners, capable of reaching speeds of 38 mph (62 km/h).


American Bison used to roam freely across almost all of North America, from Northern Mexico and Florida, to New England and Northern Canada. However due to massively irresponsible hunting by settlers in the 19th century the population was decimated, and by 1884 the American Bison was close to extinction.

Thankfully there were a handful of people who didn't want to see the American Bison eradicated and small privately held groups of the animals were slowly bred into larger more sustainable herds. Today, although the American Bison no longer roams freely across the plains of North America, there are herds of Bison - some publicly owned others privately owned - which are dotted around the United States and Canada. It is estimated that there are now around 500,000 American Bison left, however due to both accidental and intentional crossbreeding with domesticated cattle it is estimated that only 15,000 to 25,000 are genetically pure Bison.

American Bison occupy a large elevational range, being found at all elevations in the protected areas of their range. They live in maternal herds which include other females and calves. Male offspring leave the maternal herd at around three years old. They either live a solitary life or join other males in a bachelor herd. Males and female herds do not mix until the breeding season. However female herds may contain some older males. Bison herds operate under a hierarchy which is related to birth dates. Bison born earlier in the breeding season are more likely to attain a higher status within the group.


American Bison are herbivores and spend their time grazing on the grasses of the North American Prairies. Their normal daily schedule involves two-hour periods of grazing, resting and cud chewing, then moving to a new location to graze again.

On average, bison ingest 1.6% of their body mass per day of dry vegetation. On short grass pasture, bison predominately consume warm season grasses. On mixed prairie, it appears that cool season grasses, including some sedges, make up 79 - 96% of their diet. In Northern areas, sedges are selected throughout the year. American Bison also drink water or consume snow on a daily basis.


American Bison mate in August and September and they have a gestation period of 285 days. Female bison nurse, protect, and care for their young for up to one year. Males do not participate in caring for their young. Calves are capable of walking and running within a few hours of being born.

American Bison cows are mature enough to produce a calf at 3 years of age. Bulls may try to mate with cows at 3 years of age, but if more mature bulls are present, they may not be able to compete until they reach 5 years of age


Their large size, muscular body and sharp horns make adult American Bison relatively safe from predators, except humans. However elderly, ill or injured adult bison and calves are preyed on by large predators such as mountain lions, brown bears and grey wolves.


There are two distinct subspecies of American Bison and these are:

Wood Bison
(Bison bison athabasacae)

Plains Bison
(Bison bison bison)

Interesting Facts

American Bison are also known as:
American Buffalo

American Bison are one of the most recognizable animals of North America. Their sheer size makes them an impressive sight. The heaviest wild bull ever recorded weighed 1,270 kg (2,800 lb). When raised in captivity and farmed for meat, the bison can grow unnaturally heavy and the largest semi-domestic bison weighed 1,724 kg (3,800 lb).

The American Bison is often used in north America in official seals, flags and logos. It is a popular symbol in the great plains states and Kansas, Oklahoma and Wyoming have adopted the animal as their official state mammal. Many sports teams use the American Bison as their mascot and they often appear on state flags.

Several American coins feature the American Bison, most famously on the reverse side of the "buffalo nickel" from 1913 to 1938.

Similar Animals

European Bison
Asian Water Buffalo
African Buffalo


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