Bison in Yellowstone National Park

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As the largest land-dwelling animal in North America, the bison of Yellowstone National Park (often mistakenly referred to as “buffalo”) are nearly impossible to miss. Good thing too. These massive animals are definitely worth getting a look at!

Known for their brown coats, curved horns and shaggy beards, bison are a central fixture on the Yellowstone landscape. Snap pictures, but don’t even think about approaching one of these docile-looking beasts. Bison are agile creatures that can run up to 35 miles per hour, and they are aggressive when disturbed.

What Does a Yellowstone Bison Look Like?

Bison have dark-chocolate brown fur that’s long on the head, shoulders and forelegs; the hair covering the rest of their bodies is slightly lighter in color and much shorter, although it’s still quite dense. A bull (male) can weigh up to 2,000 pounds; a cow (female) up to 1,000 pounds. A bison’s shoulder hump can peak at 6 feet tall. They can swim well and can jump over objects up to 5 feet tall. Their hearing, vision and sense of smell are keen.

How Many Bison Are in Yellowstone?

Yellowstone’s bison population is divided into two breeding herds, northern and central, that together include roughly 4,000-5,000 animals. Herds migrate to higher elevations and cooler temperatures in the summer and lower elevations and warmer temperatures in the winter. Cows and bulls typically live apart for most of the year, coming together in large herds during mating season.

What Do Bison Eat?

Bison move continuously as they eat. They graze on a variety of grasses and sedges, as well as herbs, shrubs, and twigs. After swallowing their food, bison regurgitate it to chew again as cud before finally digesting it.

How Long Do Bison Live?

Bison typically live between 12 and 15 years, although a few animals have been known to live as long as 20 years. They mate in the summer (late July-August). Females have a 9- to 9.5-month gestation period. Babies have reddish tan fur when they’re born; the fur darkens to brown at 2.5 months

Do Bison Have Any Predators?

Both wolves and grizzly bears will hunt and eat bison. A bison carcass provides a delicious treat for scavengers and other carnivores.

Read More About Yellowstone Bison

Bison in Yellowstone. Photo by Jeff Vanuga

Bison Becomes National Mammal

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Bison with its snout covered in snow. Photo by Jeff Vanuga

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Bison in Yellowstone in spring

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Bison herd with two calves. Photo by Jerry Gates

How close can I get to wild animals in Yellowstone?

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Bison Herd in the Road to Mammoth. Photo by NPS Neal Herbert

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This 1894 photo of Yellowstone soldiers posing with bison killed by a poacher led to national public outcry and spurred Congress to give the Army the power to prosecute park violators. Photo by NPS

The Photo that Saved the Bison in Yellowstone

A 1894 photo of Yellowstone soldiers posing with bison killed by a poacher led to national public outcry and spurred Congress. Read More...

Video: Conserving Wild Bison

Video: Conserving Wild Bison

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Bison Jam on the Road in Yellowstone

Yellowstone Bison Will Not Go to Zoos

Oct 20, 2014: Montana decides not to send bison to zoos and other out of state organizations. All 145 animals will go to a local reservation. Read More...

Bison walking through deep snow near Tower Junction in March. Photo by NPS Jim Peaco.

Yellowstone Bison Win a Court Case

March, 2014: The Montana Supreme Court has ruled that bison can temporarily roam outside the Yellowstone Park boundaries during winter without being killed. Read More...

Bison playfully butting heads in the snow

Yellowstone to Cull Near-Record Bison Population

Every winter Yellowstone’s bison are aggressively hazed to get them back into the park but Montana governor now allows migration. Read More...