An estimated 50 million American bison once roamed the Great Plains and throughout many other parts of the US. Weighing as much as a ton and standing as tall as 6 feet at their shoulders the bison was hunted to the brink of extinction in the U.S. during the 1800s for its hide. Today herds of bison, also called buffalo, reside on the Great Plains but they are far less numerous than they were before European settlers made their way west. Ungulates such as the elk, the white-tailed deer and the mule deer also exist here as does the pronghorn antelope, the fastest land animal in North America and one of the fastest in the world.
Prairie dogs (pictured above) are rodents weighing as much as 3 lbs. There were at one time billions of them on the Great Plains. Chipmunks, muskrats, ground squirrels, mice, moles, voles, woodchucks and gophers are plentiful in this nearly perfect environment for such species. The largest rodent on the Great Plains is the beaver, which lives in the ponds, rivers and streams that flow through the prairie. The porcupine is also a native of the Plains and is the second largest rodent in this part of the country.
The black-footed ferret is the only North American ferret. A member of the weasel family this animal relied on prairie dogs for its food source and was driven to the edge of disappearing altogether when prairie dogs were killed in incredible numbers. Coyotes and foxes such as the red fox (pictured above), the swift fox and the gray fox are found on the Great Plains. Mink, weasels, badgers, raccoons, skunks, otters and bobcats are also inhabitants of this part of the nation.
Birds of Prey
Both of the North American eagles, the bald eagle and the golden eagle, are found on the Great Plains. Great horned owls, screech owls, barn owls, peregrine falcons, kites, northern harriers, red-tailed hawks, Cooper's hawks, sharp-shinned hawks, vultures, ospreys and the American kestrel are other birds of prey that call the Great Plains their home.