Wildbear Blog

Newborn Baby Bison

What a joy-filled Easter Sunday in Yellowstone! As if enthusiastic bluebirds and the return of our sandhill cranes aren't good enough harbingers of spring, standing on a hillside in a place we call Little America, we witnessed the birth of the first bison calf of the season! This little guy (or girl) was born about noon in a patch of sage with the full spring sun to warm her. Mom licked her, she twitched her legs, lifted her head and worked at standing up for a good two hours as many "wolf watchers" looked on. She tried again and again to get all four of those long legs to work together. Completely exhaused, she would fall to the ground and rest then try it again. She collapsed in the snow, got stuck in the sage but with each try appeared to get stronger and seemed to know that mom had something to offer to make all that work worth the effort. It may have been a first calf for this mom who appeared a bit bewildered, but tried her best to coax the little one to nurse. It was an experience I will long remember, nature at it's most simple, pure and beautiful.

And then there was drama! We had been watching one of the rock star wolves of Yellowstone, 755M, one of the now scattered Lamar Canyon Pack. He's been on his own since his mate, the '06 female was killed in Wyoming during the hunt in December, and his newest companion, 759F, was killed by other wolves just a few weeks ago. We had been watching him snooze under a tree when we noticed the bison birth. He was only about a quarter mile from the calf and we wondered how long it would take him to notice too, and how long it had been since he had last eaten. Bison are very protective of their calves and do what we call "circle the wagons" when predators approach. It is a very effective defense. The mother was near her group of females and young, but they seemed oblivious to her and to the wolf. This calf seemed very vulnerable.

Sure enough, and much to the dismay of the crowd that had gathered offering their oohs and ahhs at the progress of the little calf, the wolf got up and started straight for the pair. He confidently crossed the road. Everyone held their breath! He got to about 200 yards from them and plopped himself down on a bare knob with his back to the calf. I thought for sure it was the old nonchalance routine, that he would be up in a flash and on the calf before the mom could take any action. The calf couldn't run yet and the other bison slept and grazed seemingly unaware of the wolf. And then...  the wolf got up and walked away! We all exhaled.

With everything under control, we moved on down the valley to enjoy egg salad sandwiches, our Easter feast for 2013. About 4 hours later, after a refreshing albeit slushy ski, we returned to the hillside to check on the baby. All the watchers were gone and we were able to locate the calf, bedded with its mom in the midst of the rest of the group. The evening light shone golden, pink clouds streaked the sky against a deep blue background. Two young bulls play charged each other. Several females were chewing their cud as they all enjoyed the last warm rays of the spring sun. We headed home, hoping that the wolf would find a meal elsewhere and the calf would make it through the night.

Springtime in Yellowstone! Magic!