Desert Bighorn Sheep Facts | Anatomy, Diet, Habitat, Behavior

The desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) is a bighorn subspecies that is typically found in the deserts of Northwestern Mexico and Southwestern United States. They are thought to go by many days without drinking. The sheep is similar in size to a mule deer. Bighorn sheep are desert animals. The general trend in the bighorn’s population is on the decline.

Desert Bighorn Sheep Facts


  • Bighorn sheep are medium-size stocky mammals with the weight measuring up to 115 to 280 pounds (55 to 90 kg). The average weight of rams is about 160 pounds while ewes weigh up to 105 pounds.
  • Male sheep are called ram while females are known as ewes.
  • The bighorn’s coat is thin and buff-grey and has got the same properties as those possess by elk or deer.
  • They have acute eyesight and thus they rely on it while hunting. It helps them to locate potential predators including bobcats, coyotes, and mountain lions.
  • The bighorn sheep is an excellent climber and it often climbs up the tree to escape predators.
  • Bighorn sheep’s horns continue to grow all its life. These horns are developed soon after the birth.
  • Adult rams are mainly recognized by horns which have multiple curls. Their horns may be as long as 3 feet in length.
  • Ewes lack curl in their horns and also they are smaller in size.
  • The mean weight of ram’s horns is about 30 pounds. One can tell the age of animals by seeing rings in the horns.
  • They have got amber-yellow eyes. Bighorns can see things behind them as their eyes are set on the sides of the head.
  • Bighorn sheep may rub their horns to increase the likelihood of a field view.
  • The average life expectancy of bighorn sheep is about 10 – 12 years in the wild.
  • The have excellent vision which allows the animal to see things 5 miles away.
bighorn sheep facts
Bighorn Sheep ©flickr/ThorsHammer94539

Range & Habitat

  • The bighorn sheep is thought to occupy a wide variety of habitats such as Colorado Desert, Sonoran Desert, and Mojave Desert.
  • They are also protected in several National Parks including Anza-Borrego National Park, Death Valley National Park, Mojave National Preserve, and Joshua Tree National Park.

Feeding Ecology & Diet

  • They are most likely to eat grasses. However when the grass is not available it consumes cacti, forbs, and sedges.


  • Bighorn sheep have adapted to living in deserts surviving extreme cold or hot climates. As it turns out the sheep’s body temperature varies significantly. This is quite in mammals.
  • They will spend the broad daylight hours in some caves or shades.
  • Sheep are likely to survive in dry environments with no water especially desert mountains. Some of the bighorns may go as long as 50 – 60 days without water. They make up the deficiency of water by taking moisture from temporary rock pools.
  • Unlike most other mammals bighorn sheep are capable to lose 30% of their body weight and still survive.
  • While they go many days without drinking bighorn sheep recover rather quickly when they drink water.
  • Desert bighorn sheep are highly social animals. They live in groups of up to 8 – 10 individuals. But herds of up to 100 individuals are also formed.
  • Males fight with each other to mate with a female. Only the dominant ram will choose a female. Rams go at head-on collision against each other from a distance of about 20 feet. There is a tremendous force that they generate during collision. The fight sometimes ends up in broken horns.
  • The home range of bighorn sheep is about 384,410 acres.
  • Bighorn sheep are likely to stay in the same areas all their lives.
bighorn sheep facts
Bighorn Sheep ©www.myutahparks.com

Reproductive Biology

  • Bighorns sheep are solitary most of their lives except during the breeding season.
  • The mating ranges from July to October. However in ideal conditions, the breeding may take place anytime in a year.
  • The gestation period lasts 150 – 180 days.
  • The birth occurs in late winter.
  • The ewes attain maturity at 3 years age.
  • A female usually gives birth to one lamb but twins are also born.
  • The birth occurs high on the mountains with narrow slopes where no predator dares to approach them. It takes place in late winter. The pregnant female prefers to stay in areas which have water or vegetation.
  • The baby sheep is known as ‘lamb’. The lamb is able to walk hours after the birth. It will be able to run and jump in the nest few days. Lambs often play with each other. They play those games that show some strength.
  • Ewes are thought to travel in bands in which there are 1 – 2 lambs.
  • When rams become 3 years of age they move alone but sometimes in small groups.

Conservation Status

  • Least Concern

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