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It's Bison, not Buffalo! - The American Bison

Updated on December 30, 2010

An Endangered Species Success Story of the American Bison

Nothing is more symbolic of America more than the American Bison (well, maybe the bald eagle, too). These large, intimidating creatures were once on the verge of extinction until they were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park and on Elk Island in Alberta, Canada. Bison are commonly called "buffalo" by many, however, they are technically bison.

Some of these excellent photos provided by Wallpaper by Design

Why Not Buffalo?

The common misnomer of the bison

Buffalo was the term bestowed upon the mighty beast when Europeans first gazed upon them. They most resembled the African and Asian Water Buffalo they were used to seeing across the Atlantic, so the misnomer stuck. While they are related, they are more closely related to the European Bison, or wisent.

Right: An African Buffalo Bull. Photographed at Mabula Game Reserve, South Africa, 2004 by Paul M Rae.

On the Verge of Extinction...

A once VERY endangered species

Around 1800, it was estimated that there were 40 million bison in the United States. By 1900, there were less than six hundred left in North America. The vast majority of these bison were killed in the 1800s for leather goods and to deplete the food source of the Native Americans, ensuring their extinction. As few as 50 were saved by some conservationists. All of the bison you see today are descendents of these 50 or so buffalo.

Bison Fact:

At the end of the 1800's, the numbers in the last Yellowstone Bison herd were as low as 23. Due to the Endangered Species Act, these numbers have increased to around 3500 in the park today!

Have you ever seen a Bison in person?

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The Big Comeback

Bison are back, baby!

Due to the preservation efforts of conservationists and private ranchers starting in 1899, the Bison's numbers rebounded. However, these Bison were privately owned. Most of these Bison were sent to Elk Island National Park in Canada to be reintroduced in 1907.

Another small group of Bison, the only wild American Bison left in the world, managed to evade capture and hunting in the Pelican Valley of Yellowstone National Park. The numbers in this herd were as low as 23. Due to the Endangered Species Act, these numbers have increased to around 3500 in the park today and 350,000 total. This is a huge comeback compared to the single digit numbers of the early 1900s.

Buffalo, I mean Bison, on YouTube

What Do Bison Look Like?

The appearance of the rugged American Bison

Bison have a large, dark brown, thick winter coat, replaced with a lighter brown summer coat. On the average, they are a 6 feet tall, 10 feet long, and around 900 pounds! American Bison are known for their characteristically large head with bull horns, which are found on both sexes. Bison live usually around 15 years.

Bison mate at the end of summer in August and September. The calves are born in the spring after, a reddish brown color. These calves will be nearly full grown at 3 years of age.

More History of the Bison...

Thunder on the Plains: The Story of the American Buffalo
Thunder on the Plains: The Story of the American Buffalo

"This is the story of a great shaggy creature, a very American beast, one found here and nowhere else." From the days when its distant ancestors crossed a long-vanished land bridge from Asia to Alaska, through its heyday on the Western plains and on to near-extinction by the early 1900s with the arrival of the white man, Robbins concisely and clearly charts the animal's evolution. He contrasts the attitudes of the newly arrived Europeans (who shot buffalo for their tongues and hides alone, or shot them from aboard trains "for fun") with Native Americans, who used every part of the buffalo for food, clothing, shelter and vital implements.


Bison Grazing in Yellowstone

Bison Grazing in Yellowstone
Bison Grazing in Yellowstone

Visit the author of this page on Tumblr!

Give a shout out to the Bison! - Have you seen a bison before in the wild?

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    • Kiwisoutback profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Massachusetts

      @anonymous: Hi, if you'd like to kindly point those out I can review. Thanks!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Nice site, however, some of the facts about bison are muddy, and a few are just plain wrong

    • Dmarieinspires profile image

      Dana Marie 

      6 years ago from St. Peters, MO

      Thanks for the lesson :) beautiful creatures

    • montanatravel52 profile image


      6 years ago

      Love it - I grew up in MT, close to Yellowstone, and would see buffalo, I mean bison ALL of the time! You might be interested in my lens on YellowstoneParkBison (published but still working on adding more fun bison stuff)! Thanks for your "display" of the bison - amazing animals!

    • GonnaFly profile image


      7 years ago from Australia

      Thanks for clearing up the differences. This lens has been blessed and added to my animal alphabet lens.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 

      7 years ago from Colorado

      Very interesting overview of bison history. These magnificent creatures used to roam wild and free right where I now live. There is a large bison ranch nearby. I love seeing the revival of bison and all that they represent.

    • GramaBarb profile image


      7 years ago from Vancouver

      Brought back memories of visiting Yellowstone. Blessed.

    • Brewsterboy profile image


      9 years ago

      Great site on the Bisen! You might (or might not) enjoy my site The Buffalo Ranch at

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      We've been fighting the Montana Dept. of Livestock for decades over the slaughter of the last remaining wild herd of American Bison in Yellowstone. They continue to haze, abuse and slaughter bulls, cows and even calves that step foot onto state land during their migratrion to their calving areas. Please go to: to learn more and to help us put an end to this needless slaughter. The gene pool for this last warrior has been and is being depleted to the point that they may not survive another generation of the onslaught of the government of Montana. Please help!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Thanks for the Squid Angel on my Buffalo Skull from the Badlands. You rock Kiwi!!!

      I lensrolled this over there and have you as one of the featured lensmasters. I was trying to find this lens again in the 224? lenses you now...I finally had to do a search for it. Lol! Man, you've got a lot of lens. I'll have to do some visiting when time permits. I'm busy tutoring in WiWon and have one more lens to make before Friday for summer school. ~ I'm going to get this lens featured because I really do like it. --- Hope you are having a great summer. We really haven't had much of a summer or spring, been on the cool side mostly, but that's okay too.

      Best wishes to you always,


    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I am sooo glad the bison are back. Thank you for adding this lens to my plexo. I love the posters of the Bison in the snow.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Thank you! Someone needs to say it. What's crazy is when you talk about "bison" people don't know what you are talking about because they are so used to calling them buffalo. Great photos.

    • RuthCoffee profile image

      Ruth Coffee 

      9 years ago from Zionsville, Indiana

      Interesting lens, I have seen bison several times but really enjoyed the photos and video here. I've never tried the buffalo burgers, might be worth a try.

    • MattTaylor LM profile image

      MattTaylor LM 

      9 years ago

      I visited an uncle in Montana a few years back. He took me over to his neighbors who had a corral next to a pasture full of buffaloes... (ahem! excuse me, bison). and the corral was built with extremely heavy rails of steel. And in a lot of places, those rails were bent or dented... trust me on this one... bison are mean!


    • evelynsaenz1 profile image

      Evelyn Saenz 

      9 years ago from Royalton

      I was just listening to NPR and heard that bison once lived on the coast of North Carolina, throughout the Florida peninsula as well as down in New Orleans.

      Bison are fascinating animals.

    • naturegirl7s profile image

      Yvonne L B 

      10 years ago from Covington, LA

      Oops, almost forgot. I lensrolled Bison to our Native American Legends Thematic Unit lens.

    • naturegirl7s profile image

      Yvonne L B 

      10 years ago from Covington, LA

      Wonderful lens and to think that herds of thousands of bison used to roam the plains... Welcome to the Naturally Native Squids group. Don't forget to add your lens link to the appropriate plexo and vote for it.

    • Kiwisoutback profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Massachusetts


      Bison aren't endangered any more, and there are lots of private ranches that now breed bison to sell for meat. Buffalo burgers are actually, in my opinion, a lot better than cow beef. It's leaner and has a little more taste. There are many natural roaming bison in the northern plains and around Yellowstone.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      PS, I hope my previous comment was OK -- because if bison is on the menu, they must not be endangered? I haven't personally eaten any though!!!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Ah, we have a local restaurant where you can get bison or beef. They show two columns for a 'hamburger' and two sets of prices. Hubby tried the bison and seemed to like it.

    • paperfacets profile image

      Sherry Venegas 

      10 years ago from La Verne, CA

      Very good! Over 50 Indian reservations now have bison herds. I have yet to try a buffalo burger.

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image


      10 years ago

      Great Lens! I grew up in Minnesota. We would go to the Black Hills every summer. Your lens brought back the memories.

      * * * * *


    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Saw you on the boards!! Great job! Interesting! 5 stars! Sharin' the love...Annie~


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