Bighorn Sheep Facts

Bighorn Sheep are large mammals with short brown fur and white muzzles. They have rough hoof bottoms for a natural grip.

They are found in central and eastern Washington. They live in alpine meadows, grassy mountain slopes, and foothill country near rugged, rocky cliffs and bluffs.

They are herbivores and form herds of over 100 individuals. They have excellent eyesight and can jump and gain narrow mountain footholds.

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Bighorn Sheep Facts for Kids

  • The females are called “ewes” and the males “rams.”
  • Horn size indicates rank.
  • Male horns can weigh 30 pounds.
  • Male bighorns are known to fight each other.
  • In the wild, they live up to 15 years
  • Split-toed hooves improve grip and balance.
  • They eat grasses, twigs, leaves, herbs, and shrubs.

What do Bighorn Sheep Look Like

White patches on the rump, muzzle, and back give it a gray/brown to dark brown color. Its coat is thick, double-layered, and lighter in color in the winter. During the summer, these heavy coats are shed.

Bighorn sheep are the largest wild sheep in North America. They have wide-set eyes, a keen sense of smell, and specialized hooves that allow them to make precarious jumps and breath-taking climbs.

They have true horns that grow up to 30 pounds. They have smaller horns in their first four years.

Bighorn Sheep Habitat

Bighorn sheep live in the western mountainous regions of North America and are important food sources for large predators such as coyotes, golden eagles, mountain lions, bears, and Canada lynx. 

You’ll find them in cool mountainous regions of Canada and the United States. They are susceptible to certain diseases carried by domestic sheep and are at risk of falling off cliffs and being killed by predators.

Bighorn Sheep Diet

They eat grasses, clover, and sedges during the warmer months. When it gets colder, it eats woody plants like willow and sage. Bighorn sheep eat things like holly and cacti in desert areas.

They have a complex four-part stomach that enables them to go for long periods without water.

Bighorn Sheep Behavior

Rams depart their mother’s group around two to four years of age and join a group of rams. During the mating season, they compete for access to ewes by running toward one another at speeds around 40 miles per hour.

Bighorn Sheep Predators

They are threatened by black bears, grizzly bears, wolves, and especially mountain lions.

Infectious Disease

Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep populations in the United States experience regular outbreaks of infectious pneumonia. These outbreaks can kill up to 90% of the population and slow population growth.

The population declined drastically from 1870 through 1950 due to hunting, habitat destruction, and diseases contracted from domestic livestock.

Bighorn Sheep Climbing

They can climb steep rocky slopes with ease. Their rugged habitat allows them to jump seven feet and land on ledges of rock in mid-air. Little lambs can also scramble across rocks

The hooves of the bighorn sheep are hard on the outside and soft on the inside, and they pinch rocks and act as brakes on slippery surfaces.

Bighorn Sheep Life Cycle

Bighorn sheep mature at about two and a half years of age, have a gestation of about 180 days, give birth to a single lamb, and can live up to 16-18 years.