Bison Facts


I’m lucky to live close to a bison ranch and these are photos I took as we drove by the other day. They are impressive creatures and when I hear about people having close-up encounters with them in nearby Yellowstone National Park, I always wonder what they are thinking. These animals are powerful!

Here are a few bison facts:

Bison are the largest mammals in North America. (Which is why you shouldn’t try to get close to them.)

Historians believe that bison are called buffalo in North America because boeuf is the French word for beef. 

Bison have lived continuously in the Yellowstone National Park area since prehistoric times.

When a bison’s tail is hanging down or switching, it’s calm. If it’s up or standing straight out, it’s about to do something aggressive. (I’m sure that tail can go up fast, so I wouldn’t use the hanging tail as a safety barometer.)

Bison can run up to 35 miles per hour.

The average life span is 10 to 20 years.

Bison ancestors came from Asia over the land bridge during the Pleistocene. The Asian ancestors were much larger.

Bison are near-sighted.

Bison calves are reddish and are called red dogs.

Bison can be pronounced with an “s” or a “z” sound. The “s” is standard, unless you are rooting for North Dakota State University. They use the “z” proudly. 



Website | + posts

Jeannie Watt raises cattle in Montana and loves all things western. When she's not writing, Jeannie enjoys sewing, making mosaic mirrors, riding her horses and buying hay. Lots and lots of hay.

35 thoughts on “Bison Facts”

  1. Good morning, Jeannie! I remember buffalo while growing up in western Nebraska. (And yes, we always called them buffalo – never bison.) But then, while growing up, when I had a bison burger, it wasn’t a buffalo burger. Ha! Go figure.

    The buffalo weren’t particularly friendly, but big and you’re right. Fast!

    By the way, that buffalo/bison was DELICIOUS!!

  2. Fascinating facts. My Hubby & I are leaving in 2 weeks for Yellowstone, you can bet this girl is smart enough to stay away from them. I live in KS and there are quite a few ranchers who have Buffalo they are raising. Such majestic and beautiful creatures.

  3. Welcome today. These are wonderfully informative facts. Thanks for sharing. I didnt know that about the tail. Cool. We went camping when the kids where young (4 and 2) in South Dakota and we saw a lot of Bison. From a distance of course. It was fascinating to watch them interact in a group. They really guarded their young. And there seemed to be certain ones that were like watch Bison on the perimeter. One went through a camp ground and stupid people were pointing and getting way to close. My husband used this as a teaching time for the kids. Thank the Lord the Bison looked at these “stupid humans” and just walked on by. Tore one tent and knocked over a picnic bench but that was all. I tried a “Buffalo Sandwich” really didnt care for it.

    • Wow, Lori, that is lucky that’s all they did. And good for your husband and the teachable moment. That’s the problem–too many people were never taught to respect wild animals.

  4. Thanks for these, Jeannie. I’ve been looking up stuff, since my next series involves a Bison Ranch! I visited one for research – amazing to have them gallop over the hill – the ground shook!

    • My niece and I had a close encounter at Yellowstone a couple summers ago. We were at the Mud Pots, and lots of people were around on the walkways. We were waiting for a family who seemed to be taking an awful lot of photos of their daughter by the one mud pit. I thought it was a little strange until they moved on. My niece stood against the wooden railing and as I went to take her picture, I noticed the real reason they had been taking so many shots—a large bison lay just on the other side! I told my niece we needed to move out. It stood up as we were heading back down to the car, but we saw people trying to pet it and put their children up for photos. I told my niece we needed to get away, because it was a set up for bad things to happen. Fortunately, a ranger arrived as we were pulling out. Definitely the closest I ever hope to be to one!

  5. Love the information you shared and some I had no clue. They are amazing creature and massive size to admire from afar. They have always been one of the beautiful things to see. My other half tried the bison buger and it was really yummy. Thanks again for the information have a blessed day.

  6. I have great respect for any wild animal! I would love to see one in its natural habitat. Native Americans used every part of the buffalo when they killed them, unlike the whiltes.

    • I know there’s a bison ranch/farm in my county and meat can be bought at some local farm markets.

      When we would travel on I81 in Virginia, en route to Tennessee, there was a bison ranch in Harrisonburg. It was visible from the interstate. Obviously, it’s not legal to pull over except for an emergency, but that didn’t stop people. I know my parents have slides somewhere.

      They sold the bison some time in the 80s, and the property has been cut up. The part with the mansion has been for sale, off and on, for decades.

  7. I love buffalos, such cool creatures. I keep saying that my hubby and I need to go to Yosemite to check them out, but so far, hasn’t happened. I’m so jealous, Tonya, that you’re going!!! Take lots of pictures.

  8. Fascinating, Jeannie. I had a buffalo hunt in my first book and could have used some of these facts. Maybe I’ll do another one, you can never have too many buffalo hunts if you’re a Western writer, Thanks.

  9. This is very interesting, Thank you so much for sharing these Bison facts, I think Bison are pretty cute.

  10. I love bison. I used to have a herd near me. I’d drive over and just stare for a long time. They’re gone now but the longer you look at them, the weirder they look. their back ends are so slender, their chests so massive. Their heads sort of coming out of the center of their bodies rather then a usual neck that sort of extends up. Anyway. Love the bison details!

  11. Thanks for an interesting post, Jeannie. We have a small herd not far from us here in TN. Their pasture isn’t near the road, but you can see them on the hill. We have watched the herds when visiting several National Parks out west. They are a fascinating creatures. The adults remind me of heavy weight weight lifters: slim waist, bulky upper body, not much of a neck with a head centered. At Yellowstone, we sat in the middle of a herd several times while the either crossed the road or walked slowly down it. The babies are cute and are a bit more proportional than the adults.

    Side topic I found interesting partly because park rangers and biologists are becoming concerned because cattle DNA is showing up in bison. They are concerned that the populations will be genetically diluted. There seems to be an issue with free range cattle intermingling with the wild bison herds. Made me think of beefalo meat which has become so popular in the past 15 years or so. Curious, I checked on it and found it was developed in California in the 70’s. Interesting, however, In the mid 1960’s the Miner Institute in Northern New York already had a beefalo program. I only know that because our college had programs there.

Comments are closed.