Photo by Jason Whalen at Big Foot Media
It feels as though we've waited an eternity for the answer, and now we have it.... ten bison calves! Since October 16, 2016 when the bison first arrived at Kankakee Sands, we have anticipated the birth of these calves. When would they be born? How many would be born? At long last, we have our answers.
On April 20th of this year, the first bison calf was born at Kankakee Sands. Over the next few weeks perhaps two or three more will be born, but as of today there are ten.
It's just thrilling to have the bison here, as well as the next generation of bison too. The calves will help to manage our prairies, just as their parents are currently doing. They will graze, wallow, rub on trees and hopefully, in two years' time they will mate and eventually give birth to yet another generation of bison.
Since the birth of the first calf, the herd has been behaving just as they would in the wild. Pregnant cows, when they are ready to give birth, separate themselves from the rest of the herd. Then after the birth, the female bison rejoins the herd with her calf. The entire herd--not just the mother--is protective of the calves. The herd often stays together in the taller vegetation and tree saplings, hidden from view. Even the calves know to stay in last year's browner vegetation where they can blend in, rather than in the fresh green vegetation where they would stand out.
When the herd hides, it can be frustrating for visitors that have come to view the bison. But it is a natural and normal bison behavior. They are wild creatures after all.
Here is a suggestion. When visiting Kankakee Sands, plan on staying for a couple of hours or more. You can visit the Bison Overlook Area, go for a hike on a Kankakee Sands trail or two, then return to the Bison Viewing Area. Hopefully, you will get to see the bison and for sure you will get to see the many other plant and animal species at Kankakee Sands as well.
When the calves are within viewing distance, they can be seen resting, nursing, nibbling on grasses and racing around clumsily, dodging in and out of the adults. They are growing and learning and developing all the skills and muscles they will need to be strong members of the herd.
The bison herd is a powerful force on the prairie, just in grazing alone they are changing the prairie landscape. Bison eat grasses and sedges, which gives way to more wildflowers. With a greater number of wildflowers, we should see a greater number and diversity of pollinators like bees and butterflies. And as bison eat the grasses and sedges, the overall height of the prairie is reduced. This shorter-stature prairie should support a greater diversity of short-grass loving bird species. Short-grass bird species are declining across the United States, so providing more habitat for them here at Kankakee Sands will hopefully help to increase their numbers.
This past May, about the time that the calves were being born, we conducted the second annual Kankakee Sands Bird Monitoring Survey in the bison pasture. This coming July we will continue our Kankakee Sands Vegetation Survey in the bison pasture also. These two surveys began last year, prior to the bison's arrival, and we will continue the surveys for the next several years to determine the effect that bison are having on the bird and plant communities within the prairie. We expect to find that there is a greater diversity of birds and plants now that the bison are here.
Ten bison...Will more be born this year? Perhaps. But if not, ten is a mighty fantastic number if you ask me!
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.