Wildlife that Depend on Wild Bison

Bison are the national mammal of the United States and rightfully so. Their presence on the prairie is key to restoring and balancing these irreplaceable grassland ecosystems.

When bison roam the prairie, multiple species benefit in surprising ways. Learn about some of the species that are better off with bison:

Prairie dogs

When bison graze, they leave behind ideal habitat for prairie dogs. The black-tailed prairie dogs, for example, prefer using heavily grazed area for habitat.

As a keystone species, prairie dogs support multiple other species and the ecosystem. They are a food source for predators such as coyotes, eagles, and the endangered black-footed ferret. Abandoned prairie dog burrows are perfect places for burrowing owls to lay their eggs and raise their young.

Prairies benefit from natural soil disturbances by prairie dogs and bison. Photo by Gary Stolz, USFWS

Prairies benefit from natural soil disturbances by prairie dogs and bison. Photo by Gary Stolz, USFWS

Native Plants

Did you know that bison help plants grow and disperse? Seeds get caught in their fur and are distributed throughout the prairies where they roam. Bison’s waste also spreads seeds, in addition to delivering vital nutrients to plants. Furthermore, bison’s hooves plant seeds in the soil while leaving divots that hold moisture.

Bison create new areas for plants by rolling around or “wallowing” in the prairie, making shallow depressions in the soil. Photo from NPS

Bison create new areas for plants by rolling around or “wallowing” in the prairie, making shallow depressions in the soil. Photo from NPS

Pronghorn

In the winter, bison make it possible for species like pronghorn to thrive. Pronghorn are unable to dig through the snow to find food, so they have a difficult time surviving the long hard prairie winters. But, bison use their massive heads to push the snow out of the way, exposing grass and other vegetation to eat.

During the winter, pronghorn are able to eat in the places that the bison have uncovered.

During the winter, pronghorn are able to eat in the places that the bison have uncovered.

Grassland Birds

Grassland birds such as sharp-tailed grouse and burrowing owls depend on bison to create a variety of habitat in the prairie through their wallowing and grazing. Magpies even ride on bison to feed on insects in their fur.

bison

Because bison graze in varying amounts across the grasslands, an array of habitat is generated that attract different bird species.

Prairie wildlife depend on bison returning to their native habitat. Yet today, there are only three free-ranging bison herds in the United States.

In April, wild bison were granted more room to roam around Yellowstone National Park by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. This is the first time in 30 years that bison can migrate safely outside the park, and it is thanks to the help of the National Wildlife Federation supporters like you.

Take ActionTake action for wild bison! Show your support for helping wild bison roam free around Yellowstone National Park.

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