Photo by by Chris Helzer @ The Nature Conservancy

If lately you've been feeling like you're in a rut, then stop by Kankakee Sands to be uplifted by the colors of the fall flowers in bloom.

During your visit, you may see our bison in a rut of their own, which is altogether something very different. From late July through September, male bison are in "rut," which means they are hormonally charged and interested to mate with female bison who come into estrus during this time of the year.

During rut, dominant males tend to cows who are nearing estrus. You may see the males flehming, or scenting the air with their upper lip curled upwards, to see if the female is ready to mate. Similar to the behavior of white-tailed deer, males will stay near the female until she is willing to mate.

So far this year, the males have not been dramatically challenging one another for access to the cows. Rather, our bulls have been only lightly sparring with one another. When in rut, male bison will sometimes have bellowing contests, calling with low grunts and groans across the pasture to one another. They may wallow - rolling on their side - to show off their strength. Most dramatically, males occasionally charge and head-butt one another.

Rut rarely results in serious injury. Most disputes between bulls are settled through bellowing and wallowing, but charging and head-butting do occur. Bison skulls and horns have evolved to give and take the abuse of rut. Bison heads are designed for the impact. A bison's skull has two layers of bone, covered by skin that is two inches thick, on top of which is fur that is four inches thick, all to protect that precious brain. Fights between bison can sometimes result in goring of one animal by the horns of another animal. Even in these instances, the animals usually recover. The curved nature of the horn tips, as well as the thick fur and skin all help to minimize deep and serious cuts.

The Kankakee Sands herd has recently been moved to the 345-acre pasture to the north for the fall and winter months, so that the 715-acre southern pasture can remain open for the duration of the regular hunting season. The good news is that it's much easier to spot the bison in this smaller pasture.

The western side of the northern pasture is one of our newest prairie plantings. Last year, that particular prairie looked rather drab and weedy, which is normal for a first year planting. But this year, it is full of the many colors of a wide variety of wildflowers and native grasses.

So, come on out to Kankakee Sands and let the sights and sounds of the bison on the beautiful fall prairie lift you out of your rut and into a glorious mood.


The Nature Conservancy's Kankakee Sands is an 8,300-acre prairie and savanna habitat in Northwest Indiana, open every day of the year for public enjoyment. For more information about Kankakee Sands, visit www.nature.org/KankakeeSands.