The American bison (Bison bison), also commonly known as the American buffalo, is a North American species of bison that once roamed the grasslands of North America in massive herds. Because of commercial hunting and slaughter in the 19th century, the bison nearly became extinct and is today restricted to a few national parks and reserves.
In the summer, bison can be found in small willow pastures and uplands where they feed on sedges, forbes, and willows. In the winter, they move to frozen wet sedge meadows and lakeshores where they feed on sedges. In the fall, they can be found in the forest where they feed on lichens.
They live in herds of 20 to 50 animals. The females, or cows, lead family groups. Bulls (males) remain either solitary or in small groups for most of the year. Bison can reach speeds of up to 30 mph.
Mature bulls live alone or in small groups, but during the mating season (July to September) they join herds of females and immature males to fight over females which are ready to mate. Each mature female can calve once every two years. Males fighting over a female will first bellow at each other and stamp their feet. If neither backs down, they charge each other, butting heads until one of them retreats. The victor mates with a female, and stands guard over her for several days to prevent other males from mating with her.
"Although anthropogenic disturbance can have significant impact on wildlife populations, little information exists on the behavioral response of free-ranging bison (<i>Bos bison</i>) to human activity."
"The conservation of bison (<i>Bison bison</i>) from near extinction to >4,000 animals in Yellowstone National Park has led to conflict regarding overabundance and potential transmission of brucellosis (<i>Brucella abortus</i>) to cattle.
The vast herds were followed by Indian tribes, who for centuries had hunted the bison and to whom the bison had become a basic commodity. The Indians ate the flesh, used the skins for clothes and tepees; the sinews for bindings; the bones for tools and arrowheads; and other parts of the animal for medicinal, magical or decorative purposes. In spite of this, the total number of bison killed by all the hunting tribes put together had little or no effect upon the teeming bison population.
Bison have been an important icon throughout history. From prehistoric cave drawings to modern currency, the image of the bison has long symbolized power and freedom. Bison images have served as corporate logos, mascots and as prominent elements on official government seals. Bison play a crucial role in many Native American societies. They regard these majestic animals with respect and reverence and, at one time, relied on bison for their livelihood.
Daily movements of around 5 kilometers/3 miles are average, with a group circulating in a home range 30-100 square kilometers in size depending on the season. In addition, certain populations make large scale migrations, moving up to 250 kilometers/150 miles from higher, more northern areas, to sheltered valleys and lowlands in the autumn, and back again in the spring.
American bison has a shaggy, long, dark brown winter coat, and a lighter weight, lighter brown summer coat. Bison can reach up to 6 feet 6 inches (2 m) tall, 10 feet (3 m) long, and weigh 900 to 2,200 pounds (410 to 1,000 kg). As typical in ungulates, the male bison is slightly larger. The biggest specimens on record have weighed as much as 2,500 pounds (1,100 kg). The heads and forequarters are massive, and both sexes have short, curved horns, which they use in fighting for status within the herd and for defense.
When modern Europeans arrived in North America, an estimated 50 million bison inhabited the continent. By 1903, fewer than 2,000 were known to survive in zoos and private collections, plus isolated wild populations in Canada and the United Sates.