Bighorn Sheep

photo by Andrew McKinlay CC BY-NC

Bighorn Sheep live in alpine meadows and on mountain slopes throughout western North America. Males have large curving permanent horns. The females' horns are much smaller. Bighorn Sheep are the largest wild sheep in North America and weigh up to 300 lb and are 3-3.5 ft tall. They have gray-brown fur on their back and head with a white belly, rump patch, muzzle and the backs of their legs.

Bighorn Sheep's feet are specially adapted to high-cliff living. The hard outer hooves catch narrow rock protrusions while the soft inner pads cling to stone, helping them to bound up to 20 ft from ledge to ledge. They eat grass and clover as well as some woody plants like Willow and Sagebrush. They can sometimes be seen at salt licks or licking salt off roads.

Bighorn Sheep are social animals living in groups, but the males and females only mingle during the fall mating season. The males have head-butting contests in the fall to establish dominance. The winner mates with more females. The ewes have their babies in the spring on cliffs that are hard to reach. The babies can walk and climb on their first day.

Could it be? Arizona's Desert Bighorns are adapted to the desert and can go more than 10 days without water, even in summer. They are smaller and slightly lighter-colored than Rocky Mountain Bighorns. Mountain Goats have long creamy white fur and thin black horns that point backwards over their head but don't curl.

Did you know? Bighorn Sheep have very good eyesight and can detect movement at over half a mile.

See Also: Mountain Goat