American Bison

The American Bison is the largest mammal on the North American continent. It is characterized by an overdeveloped front portion and tapered hindquarters. It has short horns that grow out of the side of its head. The hair on its front portion grows to 20 in. forming a hood that hangs down from its forehead to its muzzle, a thick mane, and cuffs on its front legs.

The hair is primarily insulation for the colder seasons. It also serves as protection for the males during breeding season. The Plains Bison is very closely related to the Wood bison (Bison bison athabascae). The Wood bison lives farther north and is bigger than the Plains bison.

Food

Adult bison need about 30 pounds of forage a day. Bison prefer grass but when necessary will eat leaves from trees.

Habitat

Bison thrive anywhere there is adequate forage, water, and space. Grasslands and meadows are perfect places for bison to live. They will use forested areas for shade, protection from insects, and an additional food source when there is snow on the ground. However, bison are quite capable of surviving in the winter, even when the snowfall is several feet deep. Bison also tend to be seasonally migratory. These migrations are based on weather conditions, availability of food, and tradition.

Predators

The Grey wolf, coyote, and Grizzly bear are the primary predators of the bison.

Social Structure

Bison are social creatures. Females usually travel in herds of related animals (up to 60 Bison) while mature males either roam alone or in small groups. Solitary males and groups of males will stay by themselves until breeding season (July through September) when they will join with a group of females. The females are very protective of their young and will become aggressive if they are threatened. Male bison do not take care of their young at all.

Birth & Offspring

Female bison give birth to one calf after a 285-day gestation period. Bison calves can run after 3 hours and are weaned at 7 months. The calf will stay with its mother for about 3 years. Then it will join one of the mature male herds.

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