Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep

Ram displays horns at Logan Pass, Glacier National Park

by Marlene

The American argali, more commonly known as bighorn sheep, roam in the higher elevations of the Rocky Mountains. The males, or rams, are known for their impressive curved horns. The horns, or growths, are a status symbol for the male sheep and are used to display superiority. During the mating season, these huge horns are used as weapons. Rams battle for mating rites by rearing up on hind legs and standing to face one another. They charge head on at about 20 miles an hour and hurl their huge horns into their foe. This fight for the female (ewe), with its clashing of horns, can be heard echoing through the mountains. It may continue for several hours before one of the males submits. The bony skull of the bighorn sheep prevents serious damage to the animal during these confrontations. A Rocky Mountain ram’s body may weigh up to 500 lbs while their horns weigh up to 30 lbs, more weight than all of their body bones combined. The ewes have horns also, but are smaller and less curved than the males. They also weigh less than males, at about 160 lbs.

Wild sheep are social animals and live in groups. Rams live together but apart from ewes, who live in herds with other females and their young. They come together during the fall mating season, or rut, when alpha males with big horns display their dominance and fight for females. In the spring, after a 6 month gestation period, ewes give birth to lambs on high, secluded ledges away from predators such as wolves and mountain lions.

Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep can be found in the mountains from Canada south to New Mexico. They are relatives to mountain goats and have rough bottomed and split hooves which aid in balancing in rugged, rocky, mountain terrain. Bighorn sheep eat grass, seeds, and plants. They regurgitate their food and chew as cud before swallowing for digestion.

We often see these magnificent animals while hiking in the mountains. It is a privilege to watch them in their natural habitat. Yet, we know they are wild and give them the space they deserve. We hope you enjoy our photographs and will let us know your guess on the number of rams that are camouflaged in the last picture.

Ram eats vegetation on Highline Trail in Glacier National Park
Proud posture of ram at Logan Pass, Glacier National Park
Nice curls on two males at Grinnell Glacier, Glacier National Park
A female, or ewe, sits in a meadow on the Highline Trail, Glacier National Park.  Notice the difference in the horns.
A group of rams near Grinnell Glacier, Glacier National Park
Find and count the camouflaged bighorn sheep and tell us your guess.  This is on a slope near the Continental Divide, Glacier National Park.

3 thoughts on “Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep

Comments are closed.