Bighorn Sheep

Part of Hall of North American Mammals.

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September Morning, Alberta, Canada

Stalwart symbols of mountain wilderness, a “bachelor band” of bighorn sheep stands before Mount Athabasca in the Canadian Rockies. Male sheep older than two years leave their mothers to follow a leading ram. Horn and body size determine rank, so the leader of this band is certainly the ram on the right.

Equally sized males may duel to secure their rank. Rivals will repeatedly face off, charge and then crash horns until one loses balance and concedes. During the mating season, when rams fight for ewes, battles are even more violent. The collisions will echo across the ravines of the Rockies, and some contenders will even be pushed off the edge. 

Big Horns 
How They Grow 

Male bighorn sheep, like these three rams, have the most elaborate horns of any North American species. But they’re not just ornaments. The horns of North American bovids— sheep, goats, musk oxen and bison—are integral for mating and defense. All bovid males grow horns and the females of some bovid species do, too. Underneath the simple design is a complex architecture. 

A map of North America with a star marking the location in Alberta, Canada, of Jasper National Park. This is site of the Museum’s Big Horn Sheep diorama atop Mount Wilcox.