A Bison at Home on Yellowstone’s Range

November 05, 2021


Photographer: Angela Harris

Summary Author: Angela Harris & Ray Boren

A living symbol and icon of Yellowstone National Park, a solo American bison bull (Bison bison) also popularly known as a buffalo, strolls a grassy stretch along the beautiful and serene Madison River, in a photograph taken on Sept. 4, 2021.

Bison — the largest wild mammal in North America — have roamed the Yellowstone region in northwestern Wyoming and sections of Montana and Idaho, in an unbroken stretch for thousands of years. The National Park Service counted 4,680 individuals in the summer of 2020, in two primary herds. Feeding primarily on grasses and sedges, the males of the species (bulls) weigh up to 2,000 pounds (900 kg), while females (cows) weigh about 1,000 pounds (450 kg). Generally social animals, they congregate during the breeding season to attract mates, but mature males separate from the herds following courtship and tend to spend autumn and winter alone or in smaller groups.

The Madison River, along which this bison is grazing, flows westward here, but its waters will ultimately end up south in the Gulf of Mexico. The Continental Divide is complicated in Yellowstone, with some of its waters heading toward the Pacific Ocean via the Snake and Columbia river systems, and others rivers flow toward the Atlantic Ocean and related basins. The Madison, 183 miles (295 km) long, joins to the north with the Jefferson and Gallatin rivers at Three Forks, Montana, to form the Missouri River, which eventually merges with the Mississippi River.

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