They call them Bighorn
Sheep. I wonder why? This is Alberta's provincial animal although
many would prefer it be the Grizzly Bear. Sheep prefer to live
on slopes and cliffs that are down-right dangerous to other
animals (including man). They prefer nonforested areas.
Where do you see Bighorn Sheep?
Everywhere. They are one of the most populous animals in the
Rockies and can be seen along many highways. The entrance to
Jasper Park on Highway 16 (Yellowhead from Edmonton) is often
crowded with cars that have stopped to see the sheep that often
walk up to the cars. Please do not feed the animals! They can
also been seen on numerous rocky slopes, with the herds moving
higher as the summer progresses.
Safe from predators
Stocky, muscular bodies and brownish fur with
a large white rump-patch describe the bighorn. The underside,
back of legs and muzzle are also white making for a very distinctive
looking animal. The coats will lighten in the winter months.
The males stand 3 feet at the shoulder and average 5 and a half
feet in length. The famous horns can be more than two feet in
length curled around with a diameter of two feet.
Sheeps' diets include broad-leafed plants and a variety of grasses.
You may see sheep licking car tires and eating debree adjacent
to roads (to get the salt laid down by man in the winter months)
to satiate their incredible appetite for salt. This makes salt
licks a great place to see the animals.
Undoubtedly the most dramatic display given
by Bighorn sheep is that of rams (males) competing for Ewes
(females) attention. The titanic battles of the horn are legendary.
They start from as much as 60 feet apart, build up speed charging
forward and bashing their large horns together. They can be
traveling 25 miles per hour (45 KPH) EACH, creating a massive
blow on impact. They can duel like this for a complete day with
the sounds heard miles away. How do rams survive impacts that
would kill other animals? Skulls are double in thickness (two
separate lyers) and they have a spongy, shock absorbing, flesh
between the layers.
||You can tell
the age of a Bighorn Sheep. Just grab the Sheep by the horns
(just kidding) and count the rings on the horn. Horns car
grow 2 inches per year. Look for large curling brown horns,
with the females (ewes) having shorter curved horns. Except
for rutting season for males, the horns are mostly ornamental
as the animals use terrain, agility and bounding speed to
avoid predators. Look at the horns or
Natural enemies of bighorn
sheep include avalanches and snowslides, mountain lions, bears,
wolves and very occasionally the smaller wildcats of Alberta.
An eagle may try to knock young offspring off the cliffs, later
feasting on the carcass at the bottom before larger carnivores
arrive to continue the feast.
|| The back hoof will almost step into the footprint
left behind by the front foot as the animal walks.