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Bison Facts: Get to Know Yellowstone’s Shaggy Behemoth

animal on the field

When people come to Yellowstone National Park and ask for Yellowstone facts, they almost always want to know about the bison. The largest land mammal in the North America has become so well linked to Yellowstone. These once abundant animals are some of the most popular wildlife at Yellowstone for good reason. From their size to their speed, everything about bison is extraordinary and their survival as a species is inextricably tied to Yellowstone.

Back from the Brink of Extinction

Bison have roamed the land that is now Yellowstone National Park since prehistoric times. As European Americans settled further and further west, these large creatures that previously roamed freely across the plains in the millions were driven out and hunted to near extinction. By the late 1800s, Yellowstone was the last place to find wild bison in the United States, and by 1900, fewer than 2 dozen bison remained in Yellowstone.

A conservation effort began in 1902 that ended poaching, brought in bison from another area, and over decades of careful farming, ensured the survival of the bison. There are close to 5,000 bison in Yellowstone today. These bison are divided into two groups, the northern and the central herds, based on where they breed.

Bison Basics

With adult males weighing in at 2,000 pounds and adult females close to 1,100 pounds, there is no denying that bison are behemoths. Despite their size, they are surprisingly fast. Bison can run up to 35 miles per hour, jump over five feet high, are excellent swimmers, and are remarkably athletic. On top of all that, they have fantastic vision, hearing, and sense of smell.

As herbivores that eat mainly grasses or other low-lying foliage, Yellowstone bison are able to search for food throughout the park year-round. The bison’s characteristic hump is the result of large neck and shoulder muscles designed to help with scouring for food in the winter. The bison use these muscles to clear snow from the ground by swinging their heads from side to side.

When and Where to See Yellowstone Bison

In late spring, from April into May, Yellowstone visitors may see newborn calves from the breeding herds in either Hayden Valley or Lamar Valley. In the early summer months, bison from both the northern and central herds, can be seen in the grasslands. During the rut, or mating season, that runs from late July throughout August, the bison gather in the largest numbers of the year. Males compete with one another to mate with females and then disperse into smaller herds after the rut has ended. In the winter, the bison migrate to make the exploration for food easier. They are often seen near the Madison River, Blacktail ponds, and the hydrothermal areas throughout the colder months.

The story of Yellowstone’s bison is more than just a few bullet points of Yellowstone facts. The story of Yellowstone’s bison is a tale of the near extinction and a successful conservation effort that saved North America’s largest land-dwelling mammal. At Scenic Safaris, our knowledgeable, trained guides know the best places to see Yellowstone’s shaggy bison and can share the story of its survival. Come experience the diversity of Yellowstone wildlife up close on one of our guided tours filled with facts, history, and a new perspective on the nation’s oldest National Park.