Yellowstone: Bison

This is part of a series of posts about wildlife we saw in Yellowstone National Park during our June vacation in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.

The American bison is the largest living mammal in the Western Hemisphere. Related to the cape buffalo and cattle, thundering herds of bison once roamed the US Great Plains, but they were almost driven to extinction by overhunting and disease.

This video of a herd of bison crossing the Lamar River shows us a glimpse of what used to be. Notice all the lighter-colored calves. This HD video was taken with a DLSR and a 400 mm lens, producing an 8x magnification, and the bison still look small. To get a better view, click the YouTube icon and select a larger size and bitrate.

Driving through Yellowstone’s Hayden River Valley, we stopped to watch bison near the road. The bison bull in the above photo walked in front by our parked car. In the above photo, the bull is walking toward the road filled with cars. He kept walking, and the oncoming cars stopped. Fifteen seconds later, he’s across the road. Between the cars forced to stop and tourists getting a better look and taking pictures, he brought traffic to a standstill.

bison bull crossing the road
bison bull crossing the road

And then a second bull walked up to the road.

second bull crossing the road
second bull crossing the road

As seen in this video, he stopped traffic, looked back at his herd, and nodded his head. They then crossed the road as he held up traffic. After they were all safely across, he finished crossing the road!

Notice the people in the video who approached the bison? From wikipedia, “Between 1980 and 1999, more than three times as many people in Yellowstone National Park were injured by bison than by bears. During this period, bison charged and injured 79 people, with injuries ranging from goring puncture wounds and broken bones to bruises and abrasions.” We filmed from inside our car.

Bison are faster than humans, they’re very strong, and they can be aggressive. This video catches the end of two bulls butting heads.

Here’s the dust wallow pit they were fighting for.

bison wallowing in dust
bison wallowing in dust (click to enlarge)

Despite their size and strength, bison are also prey. Looking across Yellowstone’s Lamar River where we had seen a wolf eating the remains of a bison the day before, we noticed a bouncing black object in the distance. Looking through binoculars, we saw that it’s a bison limping. The bison jerks up its head in order to take a step with its front legs — it appears that one of its front legs can’t take any weight. The bison is tired and rests occasionally. Not too hard to imagine what’s going to happen real soon…

On a happier note, here’s a pair of bison calves, a lighter color than adults.

baby bison
baby bison (click to enlarge)

And a mother nursing. The mother has a collar, probably to record where she goes.

collared bison nursing
collared bison nursing (click to enlarge)

This was our first visit to Yellowstone NP, and these are the first bison we’ve seen in the wild.

Most of the photos in this post were taken in the Hayden Valley, where we were able to get closer to the bison. In Yellowstone NP, we could only drive on roads, and there are very few roads. The road in the Hayden Valley runs through the center of the valley; bison do cross the road so you can get closer. The Lamar Valley road runs on the edge of the valley, and the bison are much farther away.


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I enjoy travel, art, food, photography, nature, California native plants, history, and yoga. I am a retired software engineer. The gravatar is a Nuttall's woodpecker that visited our backyard.

5 thoughts on “Yellowstone: Bison”

  1. very cool photos and videos! what camera do you use for the clips? I also wonder what the people think who get so close to these wild and powerful animals… strange strange strange…


  2. Thank you. I use a Canon 6D, which has built-in video. I’m still learning — my initial video attempts in Botswana were horribly shaky. Like they say, practice before your trip. ;-(


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