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Species at Risk

Wood Bison

Bison bison athabascae

What is the Wood bison?

Herd of Wood Bison in Wood Buffalo National Park of Canada.
Wood Bison feed mainly on sedges and grasses, but also on the leaves and bark of trees and shrubs (primarily willow) and lichen.
© Parks Canada / W. Lynch / 09.90.10.01 (82) / 1987

Wood bison, considered to be a northern subspecies of the American bison, are the largest land mammals in North America. Males can stand up to two meters high at the shoulders, and can weigh up to a tonne. The females are smaller than the males.

Wood bison are darker brown in color than plains bison. They have long legs, a prominent hump, a short tasseled tail, thick shaggy hair on the head and neck, and a beard. Their curved black horns and sharp hooves serve as weapons for defense against predators such as wolves.

Wood bison roam freely through the boreal forest in mixed herds of cows, calves, yearlings, and a few bulls. Some bulls will form their own groups, while others roam on their own. Bison have keen hearing and a good sense of smell, and are able to quickly detect changes in their environment.

Species at Risk - Who Knew?

Bison are the largest land mammals in North America. A bull can stand up to two meters in height and weigh more than a tonne. Wood Buffalo National Park of Canada, Canada’s largest national park, has the largest free-roaming bison herd in the world.

Bison are at their most dangerous during the rutting season, which occurs from July to mid-September. During this time the herds are restless, and aggressive behavior can be seen as the bulls compete with each other to mate with females. At any time of year, bison should be given a wide berth, as they will sometimes charge when agitated.

Where is the Wood bison found?

Historically, wood bison ranged throughout northern Alberta, northwestern Saskatchewan, southwest Northwest Territories, and in the Yukon. Today there are both wild and captive herds in Alberta, Manitoba, British Columbia, Yukon, and southwest Northwest Territories.

The Wood Buffalo National Park of Canada herd has approximately 5600 animals (as of 2005), and is the largest free-roaming herd left in the world.