American Bison: The Art Of Tending

Before I began researching the courtship behaviour of animals, I didn’t believe that following a female around was a viable way for a male to win her over, but it is and the American Bison is no exception.

Photo Credit: Larry Smith

For most of the year, females live in female-only herds, and males usually roam by themselves. American Bison males will mount males almost as much as they mount females; females are not recorded in the wild as showing homosexual behaviour but in captivity they will mount other females. But with the warmer months, comes mating season and this brings the sexes together.

Courtship is pretty simple, whether it be male/female pairings or male/male pairings. A bull will choose a female from a herd and tend to her. This doesn’t mean tending the way humans mean tending – tending in bison terms means that the bull will follow and stand in front of a cow. If the female is uninterested in that male, she will ditch him. But if she likes the male, she will stay and let him tend her. If another challenger enters the arena, i.e. another bulls wants to win the affection of the female, the two bulls may decide to fight; there are many other cues that will diffuse the fight before a full out brawl will ensue.

Photo Credit: Keith Ewing

If they fight, it will usually look like headbutting, locking horns, and/or shoving. During the fight, the female(s) will try and start competition from more bulls by running around. Their goal is to mate with the strongest bull, so that they may have big, strong offspring and they want the males to prove themselves.

When the strongest male has been decided through fighting, the female will allow him to mate with her.

Interested in learning more about the mating behaviours of different plants, animals, and fungi? Check back here for more Mating Mondays.


For more information about tetrapods like the American Bison, check out the Cowan Tetrapod Collection