(often called
a "buffalo")

The bison is a hoofed mammal and the largest land animal in North America. There are two types of bison in North America - the Wood Bison and the Plains Bison. Bison are not buffalo.

1. Where the bison are found

Bison are found in North America, mainly in parks and reserves. Bison once lived on the prairies of western Canada and the United States.

2. Appearance

Bison have shaggy brown hair around the head and neck. Thick fur extends down the front legs. The bison's back and hind end are covered with shorter hair. Bison have a long thick beard hanging from the chin and short up-curved horns. (photo 1)

3. Food

Bison spend most of their time feeding on grasses (like wild oats, rye and wheat), lichens (nonflowering plants that grows close to the ground ), vetches ( trailing plants ) , horsetails (grasslike weeds) and berries.

They begin grazing early in the morning and swallow the unchewed food. When the bison finds a place to rest the unchewed food or cud is brought back into the mouth and chewed.

4. Adaptations

  • Herds - Bison usually travel in small bands of twenty or more searching for grass to eat. The leader is an older stronger male. The small groups form herds when they are migrating.

  • Horns - They rub the horns against trees or even against rocks to keep the horns sharp and polished.

  • Senses - Bison have excellent senses of hearing and smell to alert them of dangers. It is difficult to sneak up on a bison. The wide flat nose picks up the scent and the bison is always listening for any unusual sounds. They have poor eyesight.

  • Defence - When bison are alarmed, they run (stampede) or defend themselves with their sharp horns. Instead of stampeding the bison might surround the young.

  • Nose - Besides having a keen sense of smell, the bison uses its nose for pushing away the snow and uncovering the grass that lies underneath.

  • Fur coat - Bison actually have two coats in one. There is a layer of underfur close to the body for trapping warm air next to the skin. The thick outer coat sheds water and keeps out the wind. In spring the bison sheds the winter coat.

  • Migration - For the winter bison migrate to valleys and wooded areas to find shelter from the cold winter storms.

  • Wallowing - The bison is bothered by insect pests which bite or lay eggs on the fur. Wallowing (or rolling on the ground ) helps to get rid of the pests, and also helps to rub off the loose patches of fur.

  • The tail looks like a rope. It makes a great fly swatter.
Steve Canipe, Pics4Learning

5. Enemies

The main enemies are the grizzly bear, mountain lion, wolf and coyote. Man was the bison's greatest enemy.

6. The young

In early summer the female (cow) leaves the herd and goes off alone to give birth to one baby (calf). (Twins are rare).

A young bison looks alot like a baby cow. Its eyes and ears are open and it has a fuzzy reddish-orange coat. (photo 2)

The calf stays close to its mother. They do not return to the herd for two or three days. The mother and the baby know each other by their scent. (photo 3)

Young bison love to play. They kick up their hind legs and dash across the fields. They butt heads with each other. All this play helps to strengthen their muscles.

The calf will drink its mother's milk for about seven months. When it is a week old it will also start to nibble on grass.

go to BISON - page 2


IMAGES (bison1.jpg, bison2.jpg, calf.jpg)
Gerald and Buff Corsi California Academy of Sciences
Manzanita Project
Canipe, Steve. bison4.jpg. 9/19/2001.

2001 (updated 2011)
Web Pages for Students