Bison, known also as buffalo and Illinois cattle, were plentiful in the 1600s and 1700s. Some Native Americans hunted bison, and French explorers wrote about them in their journals.
In 1763 and 1779, there were severe winters with snow over ten feet deep followed by spring flooding. It is thought that thousands of bison died from lack of food and from falling through the ice on lakes and rivers. After that there were fewer bison in Illinois; they disappeared by about 1810.
Bison are brown with a darker brown head, neck, and hump. They are covered with longer coarse hair that forms a beard on the chin and throat. Adult bison are 5 1/2 to 6 feet tall and 10 to 12 feet long from the nose to the tip of the tail. An adult male weighs from 1,600 to 2,000 pounds. A female weighs about 900 pounds. Calves are born in spring and take eight years to mature. Bison live in herds, in which older males can protect females and young.
Habitat and behavior:
Bison are grazers, and once occurred on grasslands or prairies in Illinois.
Bison graze on grass, other small plants, low shrubs, and twigs such as those from willow trees.
Distribution and status:
Bison were extirpated (destroyed, disappeared) from the wild in Illinois.