Bighorn sheep live in social groups but rams and ewes usually only meet to mate. Rams live in bachelor groups and ewes live in herds with younger lambs. Lambs are born in the spring and walk soon after birth. They nurse up to six months. Males leave their mother’s group around two to four years of age, while the females stay with their herd for life. Although widely distributed across the Rocky Mountains, bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) persist chiefly in small, fragmented populations that are vulnerable to sudden declines as a result of disease, habitat loss, and disruption of their migratory routes roads and other human activities.
Ram skulls have two layers of bone above the brain that function as a shock absorber, an adaptation for the collision of head-on fighting that is used to establish dominance between rams of equal horn size, especially during mating. Mating season begins in November.
Horn growth is greatest during the summer and early in life. Female horns grow very little after 4–5 years, likely due to reproductive costs. The horn size of bighorn sheep rams can influence dominance and rank, which affects social relationships within herds. Older ram horns may be “broomed” or broken at the tip, which can take off 1–2 years of growth. They have wide-set eyes that provide a large angle of vision. This along with sharp hearing and a highly developed sense of smell can detect dangers at great distances. Specialized hooves and rough soles provide a natural grip as bighorn sheep make precarious jumps and breath-taking climbs up and down sharp cliff faces.
Length: 5-6 feet (1.5-1.8 m). Height to shoulder: up to 3 feet (0.9 m).
Adult male (ram): 174–319 pounds, including horns that can weigh 40 pounds. The horns of an adult ram can make up 8–12% of his total body weight. Adult female (ewe): up to 130 pounds.
males, 9–12 years; females 10–14 years.
Bighorn sheep use the steep mountains to help evade predators. They prefer the rocky slopes, mountainsides, foothills and alpine meadows of the Rocky Mountains throughout Canada, the United States and northern Mexico. Although widely distributed across the Rocky Mountains, bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) persist chiefly in small, fragmented populations that are vulnerable to sudden declines as a result of disease, habitat loss, and disruption of their migratory routes roads and other human activities.
Feed primarily on grasses; forage on shrubby plants in fall and winter. Bighorn sheep feed on grasses in the summer and browse shrubs in the fall and winter. They seek minerals at natural salt licks like Sheep Lakes to add nutrients to their diet. Their digestive system acts as a survival mechanism. A complex, four-part stomach allows sheep to gain important nutrients from hard, dry forage. They eat large amounts of vegetation quickly and then retreat to cliffs or ledges. Here they can thoroughly rechew and digest their food away from possible predators.
SIGNS OF PRESENCE:
Bighorn sheep tend to stay on rocky hillsides, avoiding trees and shrubs that could provide cover for potential predators. Consequently, it is highly unlikely you will stumble upon a bighorn sheep, but rather will need to look up to see them. Though one of the most steady animals on their feet, small rock slides from individuals walking on steep hillsides are an indication of nearby sheep activity.
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