Where the buffalo roam

Home on the range, for the buffalo in Yellowstone National Park, is the sagebrush steppe that carpets the plains below some glorious mountains.  We had a few opportunities to photograph them, especially in late afternoon light.

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Herds are generally made up of females, their calves, young males up to 2-3 years, and few older breeding males that compete with each other for access to females in heat.

A dominance hierarchy of studly males is determined by head butting and shoving contests; subordinate bulls know their place, and many are driven out of the herd to forage by themselves or in small bachelor groups until they reach the size and strength to challenge the “top dogs” in the herd.

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There are marked differences in size between males and females (although this might have been a young female).  He was very protective of her and wouldn’t let her rejoin the rest of the herd.

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Judging from his behavior, she must be in estrus (heat), exuding some very attractive odor.

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His response to taking a good whiff of her scent…by taking it in on the tip of his tongue and pressing his tongue to the roof of his mouth (where there is an organ of smell).

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Dense fur with about 10X the number of hairs per square inch that cattle have keep bison warm in the winter.  Short eyelashes keep their eyelids free of ice, thick mats of hair on the forehead protect males during head-butting contests.

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Bison stay on the move all day as they graze, moving up to 2 miles as they forage mostly on grasses. They might seem slow and sedentary, but bison can sprint at 35 mph, and are known to leap over or plow through barbed wire fences.

9 thoughts on “Where the buffalo roam

  1. Wonderful images. If you have a chance, visit TOM Mengelsen’s famous photo gallery on Cache St. in Jackson. He made a head-on shot of a buffalo with snow on the forehead that is classic! I tried to replicate it, but alas, no snow. Shoot from a low angle up with grass, using a tight tele. A bull will look huge.

    • We did visit the Mengelsen gallery, and were blown away by his images. Every one is just breath-taking, both in color/style and in the capture of some unique aspect of the animal’s behavior or landscape. What an artist. We all left feeling very inadequate, but inspired.

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