Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis)


Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family:    Bovidae
Size:    Height: 3 to 3.5 feet (76 to 107 cm) to shoulder
Weight: 115 to 316 pounds (52 to 143 kg)
Diet: Grass and plants
Distribution: North America
Young:  1, sometimes twins
Animal Predators:  Wolves, bears, coyotes, bobcats and lynxes
IUCN Status: No special status
Terms: Male: Ram   Female: Ewe   Young: Lamb
Lifespan: 10 to 20 years



·       The subspecies Ovis canadensis auduboni of the Black Hills area has become extinct.

·       Bighorns are related to the Asian argali and the mouflon.

·       Bighorns have exceptionally acute senses of sight, smell, and hearing.

·       Bighorn sheep grip slippery surfaces with the shock-absorbing elastic pads on their feet.



The largest and best-known wild sheep of the North American continent, Bighorn sheep are also known as Rocky Mountain sheep. Bighorns are named for the large, thick horns found on the males. Females have horns as well, but they are smaller and straighter. The males’ horns can be up to 50 inches (1.27 m) in length, weighing up to 30 pounds (13.6kg) and curling around by the side of the head, sometimes even impairing the animal’s side vision. In such cases, the males usually rub the tips against a rock to wear them down. They have white fur on their rump and nose, but otherwise, the fur ranges from brown to grey. They have a short, coarse coat. 



Bighorns range from southern British Columbia to northwestern Mexico along the Rocky Mountains, where they inhabit meadows, grassy slopes and rocky cliffs. A subspecies lives in Death Valley, where they compete for food with herds formed from the descendents of burros (small donkeys) that were released many years ago into the desert by prospectors after the gold rush. Bighorns live in areas that get a minimum of snow cover because they are unable to paw through snow to uncover food.


Feeding Habits

They are active by day, grazing on plants and grasses.



Mating takes place from summer to early winter. Females undergo a pregnancy lasting up to six months. Lambs are well developed at birth and can follow their mothers over rocky areas within a week. Bighorns are extremely social animals, and lambs show this early on—they spend much of their time playing with other lambs, returning to their mothers occasionally to nurse. By six months of age, the lambs are completely weaned, but they usually stay with their mother for much longer, even after she has given birth to a new lamb. Males leave their mother’s side to go join a bachelor herd when they are two years old. 



Bighorns live in herds separated by gender, usually comprised of eight to 10 individuals, but ranging up to as many as 100. They are sure-footed animals living in rocky areas where they can quickly elude their many predators by quickly leaping distances as wide as 20 feet (6 m) onto slippery ledges that may be only two inches (5 cm) wide. Bighorns are able to run at speeds of 30 miles (48 km) per hour and are also strong swimmers. Rams battle during mating season for the right to breed with a specific ewe. Males only begin to breed after the age of seven, when their horns are an adequate size to do battle. Battles can last up to a day, until one of the males concedes. 



Bighorn sheep are classified as a Lower Risk, Conservation Dependent species by the IUCN but the US Fish and Wildlife Service lists them as Endangered. 


Bighorn Sheep Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, US