Understanding the behavioural mechanisms involved in broad-scale spatial organisation of grazing herbivores requires uncovering the factors controlling foraging decisions, such as patch residency time. Foraging theory specifies that rate maximizers must simultaneously consider both the optimal residency time in a food patch and the optimal diet. Specifically, resource depletion or spatial variation in food type availability should not influence food choice, but only patch residency time. Few studies, however, have tested these principles together, and none on free-ranging large herbivores. We evaluated the combined effects of forage characteristics, predation risk, and group size on residency time by free-ranging bison Bison bison in summer. We hypothesized that residency time in meadows would increase with the availability of Carex atherodes, a highly profitable plant species maximizing energy intake rate, but decrease with sward complexity (i.e. plant species composition and structure) within foraging stations. We also anticipated that predation risk and group size would influence the relationship between vegetation characteristics and residency time. Residency times were measured in 44 sites using cameras located at meadow edges. We determined that residency time in meadows varied with meadow area, group size, biomass of C. atherodes available on the area, and proportion of C. atherodes within foraging stations. We found that the likelihood of departure decreased with an increase in the total biomass of C. atherodes available over the meadow, an effect attenuated by an increase in group size. Residency time in meadows was also influenced by plant species composition, with higher accessibility of C. atherodes within feeding stations increasing residency time. We found little evidence, however, that sward structure and predation risk influenced residency time. Overall, our study demonstrated that the search for rapid energy gains, together with the constraints imposed by group living, can explain time allocation in habitat patches by large gregarious herbivores.