North American Prairie Animals

Many animals live on the North American prairie along with the our favorite buffalo, Little Hŏpi and Ta-Tonka. These animals have adapted to living on the prairie. On a prairie the land is covered in tall grasses. While there are some trees, they are only along side the lakes and rivers.

Because there are few trees and a lot of tall grasses, the animals that live on the prairie have adapted to hide during the day. For example, pronghorns and mule deer are difficult to see when they are lying down in the tall grass.

Animals that usually live in trees live underground. On the prairie, many of the animals burrow underground, like the prairie dogs (a type of squirrel)and the burrowing owls. Can you imagine an owl that lives underground?

Do you like to learn and play games at the same time? Play the Prairie Animals Matching Game! 

Bison aka Buffalo
Image by WikiImages from Pixabay


Baby name: Calf

Female name: Cow

Male name: Bull

The mighty bison is the largest land animal in North America. We call them "buffalo" on this website, but they are technically "bison". A large male bison can weigh over 2000 pounds!

They seem like slow moving herding animals, but don't be fooled! Bison run faster than a horse and can jump over 6 feet!

Before the Europeans arrived, there were over 30 million bison on the North American Prairie.



North American Pronghorn
Image by Steppinstars from Pixabay


Baby name: Fawn

Female name: Doe

Male name: Buck

While pronghorn are often called "antelope", they are actually more closely related to a giraffe than to an African antelope. They can run 65 miles per hour! When you drive across South Dakota you often see them in large herds or bands.

Pronghorns are herbivores, which means that they only eat plants. They lie down in the tall grasses to avoid predators.

Prairie Dog
Image by veverkolog from Pixabay

Prairie Dogs

Baby name: Pup

Female name: Sow

Male name: Boar

Prairie dogs are not dogs at all. They are a ground squirrel that lives in the North American prairie.

Just like the "bison" were called "buffalo", these little rodents were called, "dogs" because they make a little dog-like bark sound.

Because these squirrels live where there are few trees, prairie dogs live in tunnels they build under the ground. They are social animals and live in prairie dog towns.



Mule Deer

Mule Deer

Baby name: Fawn

Female name: Doe

Male name: Buck

Can anyone guess why they are called mule deer? They have large ears like a mule! Aren't those ears adorable?

Mule deer are similar to their cousins, the white-tailed deer, but have larger ears and black tails. The live to the west of the Missouri River in the in the North American prairie.

Only the males grow antlers, and the antlers fall off each Winter and grow back in the Spring.


Young white-tailed deer
Image by Bryan Hanson from Pixabay

White-tailed Deer

Baby name: Fawn

Female name: Doe

Male name: Buck

The white-tailed deer prefer to live in the forest, but they venture into farmlands and into the North American Prairie. They like to be near some trees so they can quickly escape back into the forest when they hear a predator.

When driving through South Dakota you are more likely to see a white-tailed deer to the east of the Missouri River and a mule deer to the west.

The white-tailed deer have a beautiful brownish red color. They are named for their white tails.


Image by M. Maggs from Pixabay


Baby name: Neonates

Are you afraid of rattlesnakes? The rattlesnake is even more afraid of you.

The rattlesnake doesn't want to bite. It only wants to ward off predators by warning it to stay away with its rattle.

The rattle on a rattlesnake is actually empty. Every time the snake sheds its skin it adds a new layer to the rattle, and the rattle is all of the layers of skin rattling together.

When you are walking on the North American Prairie, watch where you put your hands and feet. And listen for the rattle.


Black Footed Ferret

Black-footed Ferret

Baby name: Kits

Female name: Jill

Male name: Hob

The black-footed ferret is probably the cutest animal on the North American Prairie, but you probably won't see one. They are almost completely extinct. They are being re-introduced to the North American prairie in small numbers.

The black-footed ferret is a type of weasel that is specialized to life on the prairie. It's nickname is "Prairie Dog Hunter" and it lives underground in the tunnels built by prairie dogs.



Black-tailed Jackrabbit
By Jim Harper - en-wikipedia, CC BY-SA 2.5, Link

Black-tailed Jackrabbit

Baby name: Leverets

Female name: Doe

Male name: Buck

The black-tailed jackrabbit lives in the southern North American prairie, and the white-tailed jackrabbit lives in the northern North American prairie. The two species of jackrabbit overlap. The Black-tailed Jackrabbit can be found as far north as South Dakota.

Jackrabbits are actually hares, not rabbits.


Burrowing Owl

Baby name: Owlets or Nestlings

Because there are few trees in the North American Prairie, this little owl has evolved to live underground in burrows. These little owls are as small as 7 inches tall!

Burrowing owls mostly eat insects, like millipedes, crickets and beetles. They sometimes will catch and eat a small rodent or a frog.

If you get to close to them, they make a hiss-like noise, like a snake!

Coyote in the snow
Image by Sindi Short from Pixabay


Baby name: Pup

Coyotes are the canines of the prairies. At one point they only lived in the prairies and the deserts, but now they live throughout North America. They are very adaptable canines!

They like to eat small rodents, but they are omnivores (like you are) and will eat fruits, vegetables and garbage.

Like the burrowing owls and prairie dogs, coyotes live underground in dens they dig for themselves. The raise their puppies in a den at the end of a tunnel to keep them safe.



Prairie Chicken

Greater Prairie Chicken

Baby name: Chick

Female name: Hen

Male name: Cock

Prairie chickens live in the tall grasses of the North American Prairie. At one point they were common, but today you are lucky to see one.

One reason why they are threatened is because of competition with the ring-tailed pheasants. The pheasants lay their eggs in the chicken nests along side the chicken eggs. The pheasant eggs hatch first, and the chickens raise the pheasants and don't take care of their own chicks.

During their mating season, the males make a loud noise with the orange sacs on the sides of their neck. The noise is so loud it can be heard up to half a mile.



By, CC BY 2.0,


Baby name: Leverets

Female name: Doe

Male name: Buck

A jackalope is a mythical animal that is a cross between a jackrabbit and a pronghorn (antelope). It has the body of a very large rabbit and the antlers of a pronghorn.

When you go to tourist attractions in the North American Prairie, you are likely to see a stuffed jackalope on the wall.

Ronald Reagan had a stuffed jackalope on the wall of his ranch house in California. He liked to joke that he had caught it himself.