Yellowstone Bison (Buffalo) FAQs

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!
Publish date:
Bison along Rose Creek in Lamar Valley in Yellowstone.

Bison along Rose Creek in Lamar Valley in Yellowstone. 

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 closeup

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.


Bison herd in Yellowstone

Culling the Last Wild Herd of Bison in Yellowstone National Park

These bison stem from an original population of 25 that survived mass killings. Yet, for the past 17 years, they have been sent to the slaughterhouse.

Bison on the road to Mammoth Hot Springs

Is it okay to drive along side bison on the road in Yellowstone?

Our city slicker impulses may be to beep the horn if one bison decides to hold everyone up. Here's what you should do.

Video: Conserving Wild Bison

Video: Conserving Wild Bison

Since wild bison compete with humans for habitat, it is necessary to "manage" this "wildlife." This video, discusses the problems with bison management.

Yellowstone bison in the snow

Bison Migrate to Lower Ground for Winter Grazing

During the winter season, buffalo head to lower ground in the North area of Yellowstone. Watch the video below to see how bison shovel snow with their heads to reveal grass underneath.

Bald Eagle Reflection

Bald Eagles in Yellowstone

If you’re looking to get a close-up look at America’s national symbol, Yellowstone National Park is a great place to do it. Bald eagles are often spotted soaring through the skies, especially around lakes and rivers.

A woman watching a bison from a safe distance in Yellowstone

How close can I get to wild animals in Yellowstone?

Stay at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves and at least 25 yards away from other large mammals like bison, elk, bighorn sheep, deer, moose and coyotes.

River Otter at Trout Lake in Yellowstone

Yellowstone River Otters

If you’re lucky in Yellowstone National Park, you’ll get a chance to see one of the park’s most playful inhabitants: the Yellowstone river otter.

Grizzly bear and cub.

Yellowstone Bear FAQs

Here are the answers to the difference between a grizzly and black bear, the odds of seeing a bear in the park, and if you should be afraid of bears.

Burrowing Owl

Owls of Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park’s owl population is difficult to spot due to their nocturnal habits. However, if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of one of these incredible birds.