Abstract - Social Behavior of the American Buffalo (Bison bison bison)

McHugh, Tom. 1958. Social Behavior of the American Buffalo (Bison bison bison). Zoologica 43. pp. 1-40+.


The Ameican buffalo (Bison bison bison) not only shaped the life of the Plains Indians but also figured more prominently in American history than any other animal. A vast literature has grown up around the buffalo, but there is still no adequate scientific study of its social behavior. This paper aims to add to the present limited knowlege in that field and to compare it contents with historical literature.

In the gathering of data on which this paper is based, I observed both free-ranging herds of buffalo through the seasons. Mannerisms and basic behavioral patterns of the animals themselves were noted as well as interactions and movement of the herds. Interactions between various herd members were also recorded to determine the type of social organization. The herds were further studied to determine their composition. Reproductive behavior was observed during the rut and the subsequent calving season.

Due to the limitations of space, large sections of data had to be condensed into a few sentences. These conclusion, abrubt as they may seem at times, nevertheless rest on a substantial foundation of repeated observations recorded in field notes.
I have used "buffalo" throughout in preference to "bison" because of common usage. The term "herd" refers to all buffalo in any one geographical area. Each herd is in turn composed to smaller units called "groups".

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