Hello Stalkers! Welcome to the thirty-seventh edition of Stalking Mike Blair Outdoors. This is officially the last week of summer. What are you doing to savor the last few days?
Well, most if not all of you either originated from or now live in the midwest. This newsletter we’re going to explore one of the most symbolic animals of the Great Plains. It became the state animal of Kansas in 1955 and the state animal of Oklahoma in 1972. The American Bison is a very large, very recognizable animal. Now, a lot of what you read will say Bison, also so known as buffalo. Which is somewhat true, many people call them buffalo, but that is incorrect in a sense. This is how LIve Science describes this situation – “Early American settlers called bison “bufello” due to the similar appearance between the two animals, and the name “buffalo” stuck for the American variety. But it’s wrong. The American bison (Bison bison) lives only in North America, while the two main buffalo species reside in Africa and Asia.” Just a little tidbit for you, so for the record, it’s bison, not buffalo.
Bison are the largest land animal in North America. They can stand between 5 – 6.5 feet tall at the shoulder and can weigh over a ton (1000 pounds). Interestingly, despite their large size they are surprisingly swift on their feet and can reach speeds up to forty miles an hour when necessary, such as if they are threatened. As I said earlier, this animal is very hard to mistake as a bison. Along with their formidable size, they have several unique traits that make identification almost immediate. They have deep brown fur that can grow very long. This fur is especially long around the face and head which can actually become a long beard and mane. The bison’s thick, shaggy coat is so well insulated that snow can settle on its back without melting. One of the most noticeable traits that bison have is the hump on their shoulders. Their head is very large and both males and females have horns. These horns are sharp, curved, black and can grow up to two feet long.
Before human intervention, bison once ranged over much of North America. This included central Canada and most of the interior United States. The only places they didn’t inhabit were near the coasts and in the deserts. It’s estimated that there used to be between 40 – 50 million bison roaming the plains. During the 19th century, settlers killed most of them for food, sport, to deprive Native Americans their natural asset and to make way for farmland as people settled in those territories. By 1900 there were only around 1,000 bison left. In the 1900’s conservationists, rancher and land owners began to see the animal’s importance and they were bred and protected on federal lands. Now, there is an estimated 200,000 bison alive on preserves to roam freely and ranches where they are raised for their meat.
Bison are herbivores. They prefer to graze on grasses, herbs, shrubs and twigs. When it’s said that they are grazers, it is quite literal. These animals are constantly moving, they even walk as they eat! They also regurgitate their food and chew it as cud before final digestion.
Bison most often live in small, separate bands usually cows(females) and calves(young) together and males in a different herd and then come together in large herds during the summer mating season. Formidable foes, during mating season bulls (males) will fight for the right to breed with harems of cows. This is done by butting heads or using their horns, but this rarely becomes a duel to the death. Cows have a nine month pregnancy and then normally give birth to a single calf. The calves weigh about fifty pounds and have reddish fur. They stand and walk within an hour after their birth. The cows will care for their young for about a year, but they learn to be independent pretty quickly. However, it will be two to three years for the females and close to six years for the males until they can mate.
You can see bison rolling around in dirt, creating depressions (wallows) in soil with their immense weight, taking a dust-bath. They splash around in water during summer to cool off and they even rub their horns on trees. Winter’s can be difficult on bison, between the cold and lack of food. The young, sick, injured and old have the highest risk of dying over the winter. Oddly, despite their immense size, they still have predators. Young bison can become the prey of a wolf pack or a bear.
Your best bet at seeing bison are looking for them in federal preserve areas or you can always check out Blair’s American Bison Photo Gallery!