Bighorn Sheep
(Ovis Canadensis)

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.

As with mountain goats, ewes generally bear one young (lamb) in May or June. It is interesting to note that, in addition to being very playful, the lambs are born with an incredible ability to climb and manage the steep cliffs.

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