It's a girl! Bison birthing season under way at Fermilab
It's bouncing baby bison time again at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia.
Calving season began April 20, with the first born in the early morning. As of noon Friday, there were two female calves and officials expect up to 14 this year.
The appearance of the babies is one of the most-anticipated events at the physics lab.
The calves, which can weigh 30 to 70 pounds at birth, are nicknamed "red dogs," because of their reddish coats. The color will turn to dark brown as they grow, with males typically reaching 2,000 pounds and females about 1,000 pounds, according to the Department of the Interior.
Gestation is about 9½ months.
These aren't petting-zoo animals. The American bison live on a 50-acre pasture off Pine Street that is enclosed by an inner electrified fence, then an outer fence with barbed wire at the top. There's a good reason for that: the bison may look big and slow, but our national mammal can run up to 35 mph, pivot quickly and jump high fences.
Depending on where the 16-member herd decides to graze, you may need binoculars to get a good look. Our photographer got the shots accompanying this story because he was taken into the pasture in a truck by the herd's caretaker.
And yes, you are welcome to visit. The laboratory grounds are open every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Admission is free, but you need to show a valid photo ID to enter.
This is the 50th year bison have lived at Fermilab. The laboratory's first director, Robert Wilson, established the herd as a symbol of the Midwestern prairie and the laboratory's pioneering research in particle physics.
The federal government made bison (scientific name: bison bison bison -- seriously) the national mammal in 2016.
The animals were almost made extinct by overhunting. In 1905, Teddy Roosevelt co-founded the American Bison Society, and, with the New York City Zoo (now the Bronx Zoo), efforts began to save them.
Some of the calves will be sold to farms and to breeding programs.
After viewing the bison, you can enjoy other aspects of nature. The lab has almost 1,000 acres of reconstructed tallgrass prairie, and remnants of oak savannas, marshes and forests. There is a half-mile Interpretive Prairie Trail. And the Lederman Science Center has exhibits on the prairie. It is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays.
For more information, visit the ecology page at fnal.gov or call (630) 840-3351.