Baby Buffalo

Are you there? Can you hear me? Somewhere near me?
In the morning, long ago, had to hold you so close, had to never let go.
Time on the river sliding on by. Hard to believe, wink of an eye.

Where’d you go, Baby Buffalo?

~James Taylor – song lyrics from Baby Buffalo

Bull bison laying down

Large bull bison striking a regal pose (click photos to enlarge)

I have always been fascinated by bison – their size, power, protective instincts toward their young, and seemingly total indifference to us humans. Herd size is certainly larger now than when I first started visiting the park, so much so that there are now efforts to control the population to avoid overgrazing in their prime habitats in the park. Plus, the larger the herd, the more conflicts arise with state officials and local ranchers when bison migrate out of the park in winter to graze in areas of lower snow cover. Last winter, park officials and hunters outside the park culled more than 1200 animals from the herd. It is tough for me to accept these management decisions, but that is the agreed-upon Interagency Bison Management Plan at this point. More details on this can be found on the park web site.

Baby bison running

Baby buffalo frolicking in the herd

According to the park web site, “Yellowstone bison currently reproduce and survive at relatively high rates compared to many other large, wild, mammal species. The bison population increases by 10 to 17% every year.” Simply stated, bison are killed each year because there are too many animals in too small a space in the park. It is hard to state these cold statistics in the same post that I am glorifying the beauty and playfulness of baby bison, but that has been the state of bison management in Yellowstone for many years. The good news is that the herd is doing well.

bison cow and calf

Bison calf sticking close to its mother

May and June are the primary birthing months for bison and I took every opportunity to watch them on this trip. Newborn bison weigh 40-50 pounds and are able to move with the herd within a few hours of being born.

Baby bison head shot

Baby buffalo giving me the once over as the herd moves by my parked car

They are a reddish-orange color for the first few months of their life, changing to more brown by the end of summer. When they are active, they tend to frolic and jump or play with other calves in between bouts of nursing. Then they seem to run of gas and plop on the grass and sleep.

Baby bison darker color

Laying down for a nap

Pair of baby bison interacting

A pair of calves nuzzling each other

Baby bison trying to get another to play

It can be tough to get some sleep when another calf wants to play

Baby bison head shot small horns showing 1

The horn buds are more prominent on male calves

Baby bison head in flowers

Cuteness bisonified

A couple of mornings I was out by myself early and enjoyed just sitting and watching (and listening) to these magnificent animals and their playful young. And it wouldn’t be a trip to Yellowstone without a bison jam – a herd moving across or along a roadway. Below is a brief video clip so you can get a feel for what is like sharing the road with these behemoths.

Most of this herd had already walked by us by the time I got my phone out for the video. It can be a bit disconcerting when these huge animals lumber by your car and look into your window as they walk past. But such is the Yellowstone experience – a connection to an iconic animal of the West and a chance to appreciate their power and beauty in their landscape. I can only hope bison managers can figure out some other solutions to these bison population and political issues.

 

Babies everywhere

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It is spring in Yellowstone and there are babies everywhere, especially bison calves. Cute and frisky are the best words to describe these orange-furred bundles of energy – not the usual naturalist terms, but appropriate for these guys. And it has been a very good year for bison births – every herd has dozens of calves either frolicking or sacked out in the grass. And the sounds of being close to a herd are amazing – grunts and snorts, bawls of the calves, and even the munching of grass when they are close to your car.

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And there’s the promise of yet more babies to come. I’ve seen several pregnant pronghorn and mule deer. And then there are the nests – a bald eagle nest, a golden eagle nest, an osprey nest, and I’m sure many more yet to be discovered.

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But the most amazing thing I’ve seen was a pronghorn fawn. I just walked out onto a small hill to take a look at a distant bison herd. I didn’t even have my camera with me because I was only 20 yards from the car. But I looked down and right at the edge of the sage was a young pronghorn fawn doing what its’ instinct tells it to do – lie perfectly still to avoid predators. I took one quick picture with my phone and moved away so as not to disturb it. I looked around when I got back to the car and I could see two pronghorn females about 100 yards away, one of them undoubtedly the mother. In a week or two that little pronghorn will be able to run and avoid many of the predators out here in Lamar. Until then it will need to rely on camouflage and it’s relative lack of scent to avoid detection. I wish it well.