Badlands National Park – American Bison Part 1

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It was super-rewarding that we were able to take the unpaved Sage Creek Rim Road off of the Badlands NP scenic loop.  That is where the park states the best wildlife sightings could be found, including the American bison.  You could stop anywhere along this road; in fact, several times we had to stop to allow wildlife to cross the road in front of our car!

In prehistoric times, it is estimated 60-70 million bison roamed North America.  By the early 1800s, there were roughly 30 million.  Horrifying, by the late 1800s, the European settlers hunted them almost to extinction to fewer than 1,000 bison. 

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American Bison

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Badlands National Park played an important role in the recovery program of the bison.  In the 1960s, 50 bison were introduced to Badlands National Park; in the 1980s, 20 more were added. Today, there are about 1,200 bison freely roaming the plains within the Park.

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American Bison heading to a herd

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Bison are the largest mammal in North America.  Males (called bulls) weigh up to 2,000 pounds at 6 feet tall, females (called cows) weigh up to 1,000 pounds at 4-5 feet tall.

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American Bison (male and female)

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American Bison close-up (male and female)

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They are not only big, but bison are also fast; they can run up to 35 mph (56 kmh). 

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“Running Wild, Running Free”

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Bison primarily eat grasses, weeds and leafy plants, typically foraging for 9-11 hours a day. Their average lifespan is 10-20 years.  These photos show bison shedding their winter fur.

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American Bison

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As bison wander through the grasslands feeding, they stir up insects.  Several bird species will follow the bison, eating the exposed insects.  Some may even land on a bison to look for insects there too. 

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“Hitching a Ride”

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“The Gang’s All Here”
(bison, birds, prairie dog)

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The history of bison and Native Americans are intertwined.  Bison have been integral to tribal culture, providing them with food, clothing, fuel, tools, shelter and spiritual value.  

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American bison grazing a prairie dog town

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The American bison was named the national mammal of the United States on May 9, 2016.

Although many people interchange the two species, the American bison is not a buffalo; and they are not closely related.  Old World “true” buffalo (Cape buffalo and water buffalo) are native to Africa and Asia.  Bison are found in North America and Europe.

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American bison walking amongst prairie dog home entrances

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American bison close-up

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Advice from a Bison:

Stand your ground.
Have a tough hide.
Roam wild and free.
Have a strong spirit.
Let the chips fall where they may!

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More to come on….Badlands NP, American Bison Part 2….

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58 thoughts on “Badlands National Park – American Bison Part 1

  1. Beautiful pictures of this magnificent beast, Donna! I have to wonder how busy the prairie dogs are making home repairs after the bison walk through their towns. How vast those plains are.

    • Thank you, Barbara! And what a beast! I have wondered that too about any prairie dog town damage, but I couldn’t find info that they do. Bison are near-sighted, I wonder if while grazing they see and avoid the entrance holes. The prairie dog tunnels must be pretty deep to withstand the bison’s weight for sure!

  2. They’re magnificent! Wonderful images, and history, Donna!

    I’ll never forget the first time I got up close and personal with a Bison…it wasn’t my choice! We were camped in Yellowstone in the 80’s. It was raining so we were inside our pop-up tent trailer playing cards or something when a bison stuck its face right up to the window beside me!!! It scared me to death! It was enormous!! I confess it won the staring contest that day! It seemed like forever before it moved on.

    Thanks again for taking me down memory lane! This is what I love about photography!! 😍

  3. A very nice post in words and photos! And I love the bison advice. We were going to take that route on our SD trip but it was getting late and we wanted to get to Wall before dark to get our free ice water. 🙂 We did do the Badlands loop.

  4. Oh my. This is a nice trip. It is a sad past of how so many bison roamed the land only to be diminished to near extinction by the 1800s. The careless slaughter is briefly dramatized in the movie Wyett Earp. Wonderful pics and walk through the history of Bison, Donna❗️

    • Thank you, Al! Yes, it is another careless, sad part of our wildlife history. They seemed like ‘gentle giants’ near us, it was wonderful to sit and just watch them move around. Wild and free. 🙂

    • Thank you, Jane, along that dirt road, you were allowed to pull off to side anywhere (at least everyone was doing it!) and watch and photograph them. No one got out of their vehicle, which I was so glad to see.

      • That is good to hear. I have seen people in the bison loop at Elk Island National Park get out of their car and start to walk toward them. After all, they look docile when grazing, but can get up to a full gallop in seconds.

  5. What wonderful animals they are, and your pictures are fabulous. I love the black and white photos, especially the first one with that sky. What an amazing journey you are having. We we get to have it with you.

  6. I saw a bison very close for the first time in Wyoming at the Yellowstone Nat. Pk. I was driving my van, going all over the place, drinking coffee and then sodas. Especially when it’s very hot in the summer. Then, I needed to pee and pulled up to the side of the road, there are ditches for rainy days, so I jumped over it and went a bit into the woods. I was still wearing my sunglasses and look dark, very discrete place to do what I needed to do. I was almost done when I heard a sound like rustling leaves. It really was dark, so I leaned over to take a better look and saw a gigantic dark mass with a huge eye looking at me at about one feet apart. I had never knew imagined how massive these guys are! You should have seen me how fast I went back the the van! After that I saw them in many places. Your pictures are excellent especially showing the background of green prairies, when I was in South Dakota most of them were dry and some burned. Thanks, Donna. 🙂

    • 😂 🤣 What a story, HJ! Very happy to hear you were a fast runner!! 🙂 Thank you for sharing! The new Spring grasses had so many beautiful shades of greens, showing the diversified grasses the prairie contained. I read there are over over 60 individual species of grass in Badlands NP. Bison are quite happy here!

  7. Terrific post, Donna! Loved seeing your pix of these huge creatures. The stats are pretty staggering– size, speed, near-extinction and recovery. They look so ancient to me… like they did in cave paintings.

  8. Wonderful shots Donna, thanks for sharing. These grassed plains look massive, and the bison have very complex and varied features also. Great captures my friend !

    • Thank you, Ashley! The bison and the plains are a perfect eco-system matchup. The more I read, the more I was fascinated on their livelihood and survival through one extreme winter season to the next extreme summer season.

  9. Oh did I ever enjoy this bison celebration, Donna. Great narrative and outstanding photos of beautiful Badlands NP. I laughed out loud at the bison advice, which I appreciate fully.

    • Thank you, Jet! I’ve seen bison in years past many times but it is always exciting to see them again. Their strength and endurance is amazing! Yet they appear to be ‘gentle giants’ when you watch them graze. I’m expecting to see more in our travels in coming weeks. 🙂

  10. Pingback: Badlands National Park – American Bison Part 1 — Photos by Donna – ° BLOG ° Gabriele Romano

  11. Loved the ‘Advice from a Bison’! Worth remembering! Seeing them so scruffy almost makes me want to give them a scritch! 😉

  12. Pingback: Badlands National Park – Bighorn Sheep | Photos by Donna

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