The Bison’s Social Behavior (Herds, Hierarchy & Personality)

You probably heard about bison stampedes – or a bunch of enormous, powerful, and majestic bison running in a single direction. But have you ever wondered why you always see bison running or traveling in groups? 

Well, that’s because similar to cows, bison also live in herds! Bison live in herds because of several benefits such as security from predators and finding mates more easily. Additionally, to help the great number of bison to get along, the herds even have their own social hierarchy.

So, do you want to learn more about bison herds? Continue scrolling as we explore everything you need to know about the enormous mammal’s social behavior!

Bison Live In Herds

As previously mentioned, bison live in herds! According to the National Wildlife Federation, bison prefer to live and travel in groups.

Similar to other grazing ruminants like cows, llamas, and goats, one of the reasons why bison live in herds is to form stronger protection against their predators. Even though bison are known for their immense size, power, and speed, living in groups significantly improves their chances of surviving. 

In addition, living in herds also makes it significantly less complicated for bison to find mates during mating season, which is an added bonus!

How Many Bison Are There In A Herd?

The number of bison in a herd depends on the type of herd (male or female) and the time of the year. Based on an article from the Yellowstone National Park Service, during winter, bison herds have an average of 20 individuals but gradually increase to around 200 bison when summer comes around

These bison herds are typically either all-male or all-female. However, there are instances where a herd is composed of females and immature male bison who haven’t yet found their own mates or joined other herds. 

And here’s an interesting fact; a bison herd can even reach a maximum of 1,000 bison during the mating season (July and August). Can you imagine seeing a group of a thousand bison in a single place? That is surely a sight to behold!

These herd population variations are referred to by experts as seasonal aggregation or seasonal segregation. During seasonal aggregation, male bison in the search for a mate will join other herds of mixed ages and sexes – this usually happens during the mating season. 

Meanwhile, during the non-mating or non-rut season, seasonal segregation occurs. This is when male bison leave their herds to form smaller groups or to be solitary. Their groups usually consist of males only. (No girls allowed!)

Lastly, the number of bison in a herd can also depend on their location. In a study by Bowyer, et. al (2007), researchers concluded that bison herds become bigger as they move further away from a forest edge.

This change is most likely their response to entering a predator-rich environment. The further they move away from the relative security of the forest’s edge, the more they need to stick together to defend themselves against predators.

Do All Bison Stay Together In The Herd?

Most bison stay together in a herd, especially during the mating season. However, at one to three years old, some male bison leave their primary herd to be alone or join other groups.

Additionally, as mentioned earlier, most mature bulls live alone during the non-mating season. Unlike females, male bison are likely to live most of their lives in solitude

When Do Male And Female Bison Join Up?

Male and female bison typically live in different herds. As stated earlier, males are only in a female herd when they are still calves (less than three years old), then after that, they start to leave their maternal herd. After this, adult male bison only join with female bison during the mating season

How Long Does The Bison Family Stay Together?

Two adult bison and a calf grazing together in a green field.

A bison family doesn’t stay together that much – especially when it comes to the adult male bison, who doesn’t stick around for long after finishing his job with his mate.

After mating with a female bison, a male bison will leave to find other mates. Meanwhile, male calves will only stay with their mother’s herds until they reach adulthood at around two to three years old. 

After that, they will leave the herd to find other herds or be alone. Female calves are usually the ones who stay in a herd for the rest of their lives. 

How Do Bison Calves Get Along? 

Since bison calves are extremely energetic and playful, they get along pretty well! This can be seen in the way they play with each other. Bison calves are often seen chasing each other, jumping on the fields, and also play fight!

Watch this video of adorable calves running in the prairies:  

Do Bison Have Hierarchy?       

Yes, bison herds have their own social hierarchy. During the mating season, when male and female bison join together, male bison are more dominant. In addition, older male bison establish stronger dominance than younger ones. 

Furthermore, the same thing is also applied in a herd of female bison. Older female bison have more authority than younger female bison. 

How Is Hierarchy Established Among Bison?

Hierarchy is established among bison through age, sex, size, and the ability to acquire mates. According to the research by King, et al. (2019), bison become more aggressive as they get older. Thus, confronting other bison through physical aggression becomes more frequent. 

Additionally, studies found that 88% of bullfights are usually won by the initiator or the one who started the confrontation. 

Two bison headbutting and whirling up dust.

With their increasing aggressiveness, it is easier for older bison to establish authority over younger bison. Plus, since the chances of finding a mate are associated with having a large size, both factors are used to establish dominance among male bison. 

Can Bison Work Together?

Even though bison sometimes fight each other during the rut or battle for dominance, they still work together! Especially in protecting their herd from various predators such as wolves and bears.

One of their primary defenses against predators is their stampede behavior. Bison stampede refers to their behavior of simultaneously running or running in the same direction. When bison change location and run in a coordinated manner like this, they are almost invincible to predator attacks, because they have the whole herd just behind them if ever a predator tries something.

A group of bison standing in a line on a yellowish field with a tree-clad mountain side in the background.

What’s The Personality Of A Bison?

Since bison are known for their speed, power, and size, have you ever wondered if their personalities revolve around being authoritative or serious? Or are they friendly and playful despite looking like the lords of the prairies? 

Are Bison Loud?

Most of the time, bison are silent. However, during rut season or when males are fighting over female bison, they make different loud noises. For example, male bison makes a loud bellowing sound when mating. These bellows are even compared with the sound of an old Chevy truck! 

According to a study from the University of California, the volume of noises made by male bison is associated with their ability to find mates and produce offspring. The researchers observed that quieter bison obtain more mates and have higher chances of producing offspring than louder bison during mating season. 

Also, in events where male bison fight for mating rights, loud growls can also be heard. 

Young bison or calves are also louder, especially if they are hungry or looking for their mothers. And lastly, bison can get loud while running! Their fast and heavy steps are even associated with the sound of thunder. 

Are Bison Curious?

Yes, bison are curious animals! With that, their curiosity is sometimes confused with friendliness. Because of their curious nature, there are times when a bison might approach humans out of curiosity. It’s advisable, however, to avoid getting too close!

Are Bison Playful?

Similar to humans, young bison are more playful compared to adult bison. However, you should note that even though bison calves appear playful, it is not an invitation for you to interact with them.

Mother bison, and even the whole bison herd, are extremely protective of their calves, which means that they might attack you once they catch you approaching the calves.  

Now, are you curious about how bison play? Bison like to roll in the dirt (wallowing). According to scientific studies, wallowing among bison is not just fun and games, however. It can also be their way of grooming, removing ticks and lies, or a kind of social behavior.

Check this video of a bison wallowing:

Are Bison Intelligent Animals?

It seems like bison have it all since they are also considered intelligent animals! According to this news article from Forbes, bison can solve complex problems such as returning objects without being trained to do so. 

In a study from Royal Society Open Science, when a farm-raised bison was offered to eat carob seeds from a bag by its caretaker, it chose, instead, to push an empty bucket in his direction using its head, as a suggestion that the meal be served in the bucket instead.

Furthermore, a bison’s intelligence is also reflected in the way they recognize and detect danger or threats. For example, if they know that they’re stepping into a predator-rich environment, they form larger groups. 

Are Bison Considered Social Animals?

Bison are considered social animals! Everything they do, such as migrating, mating, and eating, they do together in the herd. 

Bison also like to roll around in the dirt (wallowing) and groom together with other bison, which are actions that researchers say help them establish tighter connections as a group.

Might Bison Approach Humans?

Bison coming close to an open car window, smelling the passengers.

So, since bison are considered social animals, does their friendliness extend to humans? And can it result in bison approaching us? Well, the answer is not a simple yes or no. 

As mentioned before, bison might approach humans not because they are “friendly” but because of their curious nature. Thus, we should not confuse their curiosity with friendliness. 

When a bison approaches you, it is not an invitation to take a selfie with them, pet their fur, or touch their horns. Bison are not the most friendly when it comes to other species since they see you as a potential threat, and the enormous animal can actually be really dangerous.

Author: Kaye

Hi, I’m Kaye! Since an early age, I’ve been fascinated with animals. While growing up, I was constantly watching animal programs and reading magazines. I started writing about animals in 2021 when I volunteered to be a publicity officer in a nonprofit organization that advocates for giving stray animals a better life.

Author: Mitzie C

Mitzie is a writer and animal welfare advocate. Her writing is inspired by her love for her rescue cats, Eddy and Dylan, and her rescue dogs, Cypher, Daegu and Holly. Follow her journey as she discovers her unique voice here in Floofmania and shares her insights on the importance of the animal kingdom.

1 thought on “The Bison’s Social Behavior (Herds, Hierarchy & Personality)”

Leave a Comment