Animals of the Flint Hills

Two bison and three calves stand in a green prairie
Bison reintroduction play a vital role in the prairie ecosystem.

Photo by Tom Gross, 2018

Tallgrass Prairie resides in a major migration path through the central Great Plains. The Flint Hills play an important scientific and ecological role after the majority of prairie habitat was converted to farmland. Annual bird and butterfly surveys are popular among naturalist volunteers.

Wildlife abounds on the tallgrass prairie from a wide variety of habitats. Over 40 different species of reptiles and amphibians are identified in the Flint Hills alone. Over 30 species of mammals call this place home. More than 200 species of birds migrate through or nest in the area. At least 35 fish species with hundreds of aquatic invertebrates are recorded in the waterways. Thousands of other invertebrates such as insects and arachnids are often forgotten among the larger fauna.


Bison Facts

  • In the early 1800s, an estimated 60 million bison roamed from the east coast through the Rocky Mountains. By the early 1900s, bison numbers had shrunk to fewer than 1,000. Bison provide valuable history lessons regarding western settlement and Native American populations.
  • Bison are North America’s largest land mammals. Bison are often incorrectly referred to as buffalo. Their scientific name is Bison bison.
  • Bison prefer to graze on dominant grasses and avoid broadleaf plant species, all of which can enhance prairie plant diversity.
  • Bison behavior includes wallowing, tree horning, wandering while grazing, and grazing closer to the ground which can alter species richness and grassland diversity.
  • As native grazers, bison fulfill historic and educational elements at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.
  • The herd at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is from Wind Cave in South Dakota. The Wind Cave herd is one of only two known public herds without evidence of historical cattle interbreeding or introgression. Early conservation attempts did this to ensure their survival of the species.
  • Bison live an average of 20-25 years. However, some have been known to live as long as 40 years. Despite weighing up to 2,400 pounds, bison can run 30-40 mph and jump 6 feet high.
  • Like cattle, bison are called bulls (male), cows (females), and calves (young). Bulls will often compete to breed with cows in the herd. Cows will start breeding at age 2. They can have their first calf nine months later.
  • The preserve's herd started from 13 bison in 2009. As it grows, The Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service carefully monitor the bison herd for age and gender. This helps project herd growth, determine which animals are surplus, and calculate stock limits.
  • Checkout our safety tips for wildlife.

Last updated: February 23, 2022

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