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Bighorn Sheep Facts, Information, and Photos

Surefooted and steadfast, the bighorn sheep climbs mountains and inspires us. It is always aware of danger, but also aware that opportunities will arise when you conquer your fears and reach for new heights.

Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis) are iconic symbols of the Rocky Mountains, and are renowned for their large, beautiful horns and their excellent climbing ability. American Expedition is proud to present Bighorn Sheep Information, interesting Bighorn Sheep Facts, and Photos & Artwork of Bighorn Sheep.

Bighorn Sheep Facts, Information, Habitat, and History at American Expedition

 

Bighorn Sheep Information

Bighorn sheep get their name from the large, beautiful curved horns of the males, known as rams. The females, known as ewes, have smaller horns which do not have as much curvature. Full grown rams typically weigh between 120-320 pounds, but they can get significantly larger deep in the rocky mountains - males have been found exceeding 500 pounds. Ewes are smaller than the rams, weighing between 75-200 pounds. Rams typically are 5 to 6 feet in length and stand around 3 feet tall, ewes are proportionally smaller. Bighorn sheep may vary in color, with some having brown coats and some having gray, and they may also vary in the shade of their coats, from dark to light.

Art of a bighorn sheep standing on a rock in front of a sunset.

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Before winter, bighorn sheep gather together in large flocks of up to 100 sheep, with several rams in each flock. The rams in a flock will fight prior to mating season in order to establish dominance in the herd and secure access to the ewes. During the fights, rams will use their large horns to butt into other rams. The rams have special adaptations in their skulls which protect their brain from the extremely hard hits they take during these clashes.

 

Bighorn Sheep Facts

  • The horns of a bighorn ram can weigh up to 30 pounds, which is more than the rest of their skeleton.
  • Bighorn ram horns can measure more than 30 inches in length and 15 inches in circumference.
  • During fights, bighorn rams may throw themselves at their opponents at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour.
  • Fights between rams can last for hours, and have even been known to go on for more than a day
  • Bighorn ewes give birth during the spring, and hide their lambs on narrow, rocky ledges at high elevations in order to keep them from wolves, mountain lions, bears, and coyotes. However, at these altitudes, they are still vulnerable to golden eagles, which are known to prey on lambs and carry them back to their nests.
  • Bighorn sheep vary their diet according to the availability of food in each season. They primarily eat grasses, shrubs, and other plants, but when food gets scarce they will eat whatever plant material they can find.
  • Before arrival of European settlers, it is estimated that the population of bighorn sheep may have been 2 million or more. Due to hunting, diseases introduced from livestock, and destruction of their natural habitat, their numbers are now estimated to be less than 75,000.
  • Bighorn sheep have split hooves with rough bottoms, which improve their grip on rocky terrain.
  • Bighorn ewes stay in flocks with their mother for their entire lives. These flocks may be only 5 to 15 sheep at a time, but will become much larger when bighorn sheep gather together at lower elevations during the winter.
  • Because they do so much climbing, bighorn sheep are incredibly muscular and lean.
  • Bighorn sheep climb cliffs diagonally in a Z shape in order to reduce the steepness of each step and preserve strength.
 

Bighorn Sheep Habitat

Bighorn sheep can be found in the Rocky Mountains, in the southwestern deserts of the United States and Mexico, and in the Sierra Nevada mountains. They are very well adapted to living at high elevations far away from water, and in other arid regions. Bighorn sheep that live in the desert may not drink water at all in the winter, relying on the plants that they eat for hydration.

Bighorn sheep are exceptional climbers, and in the summer, when there is less snow and ice on the mountains, they can be found at elevations up to 10,000 feet. Bighorns live at these elevations in order to avoid predators, such as coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, and bears, and if they are chased they are able to quickly climb steep terrain and jump across gaps up to 20 feet. Despite their exceptional climbing and leaping ability, they occasionally die due to falls and rock slides. During the winter, they can typically be found at elevations 2,500 - 5,000 feet above sea level, which leaves them more vulnerable to predators. They will gather into their larger flocks during this period for protection.

What Do Bighorn Sheep Eat?

Bighorn sheep vary their diet according to the availability of food in each season. They primarily eat grasses, shrubs, and other plants, but when food gets scarce they will eat whatever plant material they can find. They also frequent salt licks, which supply them with natural minerals.

When a bighorn sheep finds a good source of water, they may drink up to 20% of their body weight at one time.

 

Bighorn Sheep In Human History

  • The bighorn sheep's ability to thrive in the most inhospitable environments and highest altitudes earned them a notable place in the culture and mythology of Native Americans. The Crow tribe has many sacred myths involving bighorn sheep, and the Crow, Shoshone, and other tribes would carve bows from ram horns which were highly prized.
  • The bighorn sheep was the target of many early conservation efforts. The Arizona Boy Scouts launched a campaign in 1936 to preserve the sheep from extinction - Major Frederick Russell Burnham, considered the father of scouting, had observed there were fewer than 150 bighorns in the Arizona mountains and made it a mission to protect the sheep. Burnham sponsored prizes for "Save the Bighorn" poster contests other conservation organizations joined the cause.
  • The bighorn sheep was initially considered the same animal as the Asiatic Argali by early European settlers, and Lewis and Clark recorded numerous sightings of Argali in their travel journals.

The above video shows three bighorn sheep butting heads.

Bighorn sheep on a rock outcropping

Bighorn sheep are incredibly adept climbers, and may be found at altitudes of up to 10,000 feet above sea level.

Bighorn Sheep Facts: A close up shot of a bighorn ram. A bighorn ram's horns may measure up to 15 inches in circumference.

A bighorn ram's horns may measure up to 15 inches in circumference. The horns may also weigh up to 30 pounds, which is more than the rest of the bighorn's skeleton.

Bighorn Sheep Habitat: A bighorn sheep in the snow.

Bighorn sheep typically graze on grasses and feed on shrubs, and during the winter may receive all their hydration from the plants they eat.

Bighorn Sheep Photos: A photo of a bighorn sheeps head.

Bighorn sheep have excellent vision, and are capable of spotting predators from a mile away.

A pair of bighorn sheep in front of water and mountains.

Bighorn sheep are exceptionally adapted to living in rocky, mountainous environments, and in areas with little water. When they do find a good source of water, they may drink up to 20% of their body weight.

Two bighorn rams fighting.

Bighorn rams may hurl themselves at each other at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour while fighting, and their battles have been known to last for more than 24 hours.

Bighorn Sheep Information: A bighorn sheep taking a leap across a chasm.

Bighorn sheep have exceptional climbing and leaping ability, but occasionally die due to falls and rock slides.

A bighorn sheep on some sunny rocks.

Because they do so much climbing, bighorn sheep are incredibly muscular and lean.

Bighorn Sheep Facts, Information, and Photos

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