Skip to main content
sdzglibrarybanner San Diego Zoo Global Library

American Bison (Bison bison) Fact Sheet: Distribution & Habitat

American Bison (Bison bison)

Distribution

  • Beginning around 5,000 years ago, Bison bison occupied grasslands and parklands of central United States and Canada.
    • Wood Bison (B. b. athabascae) mainly inhabited western forests of Canada to eastern Alaska.
    • Plains Bison (B. b. bison) in general occupied territories to the south of the Wood Bison, south across the United States to northern Mexico.
  • By around 2,000 years ago Bison bison reached its maximum range. (Meagher 1986)
  • When modern Europeans arrived in North America, an estimated 50 million bison inhabited the continent. (Nowak 1999)
  • By 1903, fewer than 2,000 were known to survive in zoos and private collections, plus isolated wild populations in Canada and the United Sates.
  • Occur today in geographically isolated populations in parks and preserves.
  • Largest free-ranging populations:
    • In Canada (Mackenzie Sanctuary, Wood Buffalo National Park and Slave River lowlands)
    • In the United States (Yellowstone National Park)

Habitat

American Wood Bison

American Plains Bison

  • More open grasslands, mainly in the central U.S.

Distribution Map

distribution map of American Bison

American bison distribution.

Adapted from www.d-maps.com according to IUCN fact sheet. Click here or on map for detailed distribution (IUCN).

Page Citations

McDonald (1981)
Meagher (1986)
Nowak (1999)

SDZG Library Links