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Big Horn Sheep

Additional Info

  • Order: Artiodactyla
  • Family: Bovidae
  • Subfamily: Caprinae
  • Genus: Ovis
  • Species: canadensis
  • Members of the Family: Antelope, cattle goats and sheep
  • Conservation Status: California bighorn sheep (O. c. californicus) are considered endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The subspecies, O. c. auduboni of the Black Hills in South Dakota has recently believed to be extinct after a die-off from pneumonia.
  • Geographic Range and Habitat: Big horn sheep are found in the Rocky Mountains, southern Canada, and the desert southwest and Texas. They thrive in rugged, rocky areas and at elevations of 2600 to 8200 feet). Their summer range is typically higher in elevation than their winter range.
  • Physical Description: Mature big horn sheep males are easily identified by large horns that curl behind their heads. Females are smaller than males and have shorter, thinner horns that do not curl. Sub-adult males and females look very similar. Their sandy colored fur is short and dense and fades to white over their rump.
  • Weight: 117 to 280lbs (53 to 127 kg) in the wild.
  • Length: 60 to 70 in (150 to 180 mm)
  • Reproduction: Big horn sheep breed once per year between July and December depending on their location. Most of the breeding occurs during the fall.
  • Gestation Period: 5 to 6 months
  • Number of Offspring: 1 to 2 lambs
  • Birth Weight: Approximately 9 lbs
  • Time to Weaning: 5 months average
  • Age at Sexual or Reproductive Maturity: 2.5 years average
  • Average Lifespan (Wild): Juveniles face high mortality –from 20-80%. 10.5 years average
  • Average Lifespan (Captivity): 10.5 years
  • Social Habits: Males and females spend late winter, spring and summer in separate groups called bands. Within bands of females, young lambs will also band together while their mothers, or ewes are off grazing. Mature big horn sheep males are well known for ramming one another during the breeding season. This activity determines rank within a band of males, as they reach speeds of 20mph before smashing head-to-head.
  • Behavior: Big horn sheep spend most of the day grazing. They can easily climb steep, rocky terrain and jump across spans of 20 feet. They are also able to swim.
  • Food Habits: Big horn sheep graze on grasses, forbs and sedges. If food is scarce they will browse on taller growing shrubs and vegetation.
  • Known Predators: Bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars, Canadian lynx, golden eagles, humans. Controversy: Big horn sheep are highly susceptible to disease carried by domestic sheep.
  • To Cite This Page: Dewey, T. and L. Ballenger. 1999. "Ovis canadensis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed December 09, 2009 at
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