What Do Bison Eat In The Wild?

What Do Bison Eat In The Wild?

The largest mammal in North America is the bison. Undoubtedly, a creature that huge requires a lot of food to survive. What, then, do bison consume in the wild?

Herbivorous bison eat mostly grasses and other plant material. Their primary source of food is grazing plants. They will alter their diet to take advantage of the seasonal foods that are available. When choosing the kinds of grass and plants to consume, bison are extremely picky.

It comes as quite a shock to find that a bison, an animal of such size, is a finicky eater. After all, you’d assume they would have to consume an enormous amount of food to reach their current size. Despite having a very specialized diet, they eat a wide variety of foods.

Everything you need to know about the dietary habits of the bison is covered in this book. You will discover all of the things they consume as well as some of their eating practices.

Let’s get going.

What do Bison eat in the wild?

1. Grasses

Since bison are grazers, the majority of their diet consists of grasses. 93% of a bison’s diet consists of grass.

Now, you might be perplexed as to how a creature this size can subsist mostly on meadow and grassland grasses. The explanation is that bison consume food nonstop for 9 to 11 hours each day. They eat about 24 pounds of food every day on average. However, during the summer, men might consume up to 70 pounds (32 kilograms) of food every day.

The bison needs roughly 80 hours to completely digest that much food after eating it. The bison can obtain the most nutrients from the grasses thanks to its incredibly slow digestion.

Even though they frequently have preferences, bison are not overly picky about the kinds of grasses they consume. They frequently consume grasses before any other ground vegetation, eating in a patchwork pattern.

Due to the high nitrogen concentration in scorched grass after a fire, bison also really like eating it. In order to recover from such destruction, the land must make room for new plants.

Grass that bison like to eat includes:

  • Gamma Blue
  • Dew Dropseed
  • Small Bluestem
  • Cowboy Grass

2. Weeds and Wildflowers

Additionally, forbs, or leafy plants, are reported to be consumed by bison. Their diet contains about 5% of this.

The leafy green plants that grow randomly among the grasses are known as forbs. Forbs are what you could consider weeds or wildflowers.

Common forbs that bison eat include:

  • Clovers
  • Coneflower
  • Animal Ruin
  • Sunflowers in ash
  • Asters
  • Goldenrods

Due to their propensity to disappear when overgrazed, forbs are not as frequently consumed by bison as grasses. Grasses can sustain the heavy grazing that bison must engage in every day. But they will consume the forbs so that grasses can take their place.

Large forb patches are frequently abandoned by bison in favor of grasses. Other animals, like deer or rabbits, will find it simpler to find food as a result.

The majority of the forbs that bison consume are in the summer when there are abundant amounts. In the winter, when there is less grass available, they consume roughly the same amounts of food.

3. Woody vegetation

Woody plants, sometimes known as browse, make up a substantially lower portion of the bison’s diet. About 2% of the bison’s diet consists of this kind of plant.

Browse is more commonly known as trees or plants with woody stems. When huge volumes of grasses are harder to get by in the fall and winter, bison will consume significantly more of this kind of vegetation.

Thin layers of bark from trees or wooden stems have been observed to be peeled off by bison.

Common forage used by bison includes:

  • Elm
  • Mesquite
  • Ash
  • Willow
  • Hornbeam

Although trees offer nutrition, bison also remove them for another reason. The trees are literally killed off by this. To stop big trees from growing, they do this action. Less sunlight and fertilizer availability means less room for grass to grow.

4. Fruit and vegetables

What do Bison eat in the wild?

Because they are foragers, bison will benefit from consuming fruits and vegetables they discover in the wild. Even yet, bison won’t go out of their way to look for fruits and veggies on purpose. The benefit of them consuming these items is that they give the bison the minerals and vitamins they need to stay healthy.

Bison will come across fruits while foraging close to trees or bushes.

Bison like to eat the following fruits:

  • Apples
  • Blackberries
  • Plums
  • Serviceberries
  • Pumpkins

Since they are herbivores, bison will probably consume veggies if they come upon them while foraging. They won’t make a special effort to find vegetables to eat.

Bison are more inclined to consume root veggies that have greenery growing above ground. This contains vegetables like leafy greens, beets, and carrots.

5. Fungi and seed

When foraging, bison will consume a variety of foods, including mushrooms, moss, ferns, and nuts.

Typically, the fall months are mushroom-rich. They will give bison salts and nutrients that keep them healthy. These are sometimes discovered by bison while feeding around trees or removing bark.

Nuts are another food that is present around or near trees. These provide bison with a reliable source of lipids for a wintertime energy boost.

Another excellent method used by bison to control the number of trees is by eating tree seeds and nuts. It is in the bison’s best interest to minimize overgrowth because too many trees mean less grass for them to eat.

6. Grains

The bison will occasionally turn to grains as a substitute when grasses are scarcer during the colder seasons.

Some of the grains eaten by bison are:

  • Oats
  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Corn
  • Alfalfa

As eating too many grains might disturb the bison’s digestive system, this is only a temporary dietary option. Because of the grain, the stomach microorganisms that help people digest their food have a tendency to overgrow.

These grains can aid in the rapid winter growth of wild bison. Because of this, bison ranchers frequently feed grains to make their animals bigger before selling them.

7. Bison milk

For the first year of their lives, baby bison (calf) will only consume breastmilk from their mother. The breastmilk of a bison resembles thick colostrum more than cow’s milk, in contrast to other bovine species. The newborn bison will grow swiftly because of the high fat content.

For the first six months, bison calves only consume milk. The common grasses and forbs that adult bison eat will then be introduced to them when they begin to wean.

Surprisingly enormous bison cows can only supply one calf at a time with breastmilk. In order to ensure that at least one calf lives, they will eventually have to abandon one of them if they produce multiple calves.

Baby bison that are abandoned rarely make very far in the wild. Because other females in the herd likewise produce little milk, they are not taken in by another herd. Sadly, they’ll starve to death or end up as local predators’ prey.

1. Grasses

Do bison eat meat?

Since bison are real herbivores, they do not consume meat. They will only consume different kinds of plants and vegetation as food. Grass makes up the majority of the bison’s diet.

When browsing in grasses and plants, bison may unintentionally eat tiny insects. However, as bison are unable to digest foods high in protein, they do not consume animal products in their diet.

What do bison eat in winter?

Even in the winter, bison will consume their typical diet of grasses. Even so, it’s much more difficult for them to consume the same massive amounts of food as they do in the warmer months.

Bison are known to use their heads to push large amounts of snow out of the way so they can locate grasses below. As much snow as four feet can be dug up by them. They will start to forage among plants or grains if they can’t find any grass.

The bison will eat excessively over the summer to bulk up. In order to endure the severe winter and consume less food when there is less available, they do this.

In the past, bison would travel hundreds of kilometers in search of sustenance throughout the winter. However, today’s bison are only found in a select few national parks in the USA and Canada. They still move in search of better food sources, but the majority stay within a 70-mile radius.

Final Thoughts

In the wild, bison are grass-eating herbivores. They have a few other food sources that they employ to round out their diet. They will also consume weeds, wild flowers, woody plants, fruits, fungus, and grains, depending on the season.

Even though bison consume a lot of food every day, it takes them more than 3 days to completely digest it. They can eat a lot of low-quality vegetation and still be healthy thanks to this.

Bison calves will suckle for up to a year, but milk resources are scarce. This frequently implies that babies must be abandoned in order for one to survive.

These are the dietary modifications that bison have made in order to maximize their chances of survival in the wild.


How can bison protect itself?

Smell. Bison use their excellent sense of smell to help defend themselves against predators. Bison use their ability to smell predators from up to three kilometers away to avoid them.

Is a bison a herbivore?

Herbivores are American bison. They favor sedges and low-growing grasses. The bison are always moving, and they even walk while they eat.

What climate do bison need?

Bison, who are known for covering a lot of ground, move around constantly while they eat and aerate the soil, creating an ideal environment for a variety of different species. The Great Plains’ severe weather, from summer heat to winter cold and blizzards, is no match for the adaptations that bison have developed.

What is the bison diet?

The American bison is a grazer. Grass and sedge make up the majority of its diet. It will consume berries and lichen on occasion. The bison uses its head and hooves to clear snow from the vegetation in the winter.

What does bison need to survive?

Specialty grass mixes are not necessary for bison because they can survive on marginal soils with lesser quality grasses than cattle can. This is because bison evolved on North America’s prairies. For their grazing requirements, a bison cow and her calf will need between 4 and 16 hectares of pasture land.


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Sarah Green

Wildlife and Nature Fan & Author