BIGHORN SHEEP – Ovis canadensis


Bighorn sheep facts: The maximum weight in males is 300 pounds (137 kilograms), 200 pounds (91 kilograms) in females. They measure 49 to 77 inches (124 to 195 centimeters) long, with females being smaller. Males have huge horns curling round and forward. Females’ horns are much smaller and curl just a little. Coats range from reddish brown to almost black-brown with white undersides, rump, muzzle, and back of legs. They have excellent eyesight. Bighorns vocalize during mating season and when in danger.

Geographic range: Bighorn sheep are found in western North America south to desert ranges of the southwest United States and Mexico.

Bighorn sheep habitat: Bighorns live in deserts, but prefer mountain meadows, rocky cliffs, and mountains. They prefer regions where annual snowfall does not exceed 60 inches (152 centimeters) because they aren’t able to paw through snow with their cloven (split) hooves.

What does bighorn sheep eat: Bighorns eat grasses, herbs, and shrubs. Those that live in the desert eat desert plants.

Behavior and reproduction: Bighorns live in small hers of two to nine, with mature males staying separate from the herd. They migrate to higher elevations in the summer and to sheltered valleys during the cold months.

Though males won’t defend territories, they will fight each other over a female. Bighorns jump from ledge to ledge with ease and are able to climb mountains at a rate of 15 miles per hour (24.1 kilometers per hour). On level ground, they move at a rate of 30 miles per hour (48.3 kilometers per hour). They are capable swimmers.

These polygamous bovids mate in the fall. Gestation lasts 150 to 180 days and results in the birth of one or two lambs. Offspring are protected by their mothers for several months. Females are ready to mate at thirty months, males between seven and eight years. Life span in the wild averages ten years, but can reach twenty. Coyotes and mountain lions are primary predators.

Bighorn sheep and people: Prized for its majestic horns, the bighorn is hunted as a trophy as well as for meat.

Conservation status: Though population numbers are lower than they were in the nineteenth century, they are stable, and the species is not considered threatened.