Bighorn Sheep (Mountain or Rocky Mountain Sheep)
The Bighorn Sheep are also known as Mountain or Rocky Mountain Sheep. They are grey brown animals with a paler belly, a white rump and a white muzzle. The male is larger and taller than the female standing a meter tall. Bighorn Sheep males have very distinct massive horns that spiral back, out and then forwards with a blunt tip and measure up to 125 cm in length and 460 mm in circumference at the base. The horns of the female are only slightly curved and very short about 30cm long. Their horns grow throughout their lives producing an annulus each winter. The annulus can be used to tell their age. The Bighorn Sheep have a shaggy appearance due to their coarse fur, especially during late summer and fall. Their brittle hair tips however break away in spring when they shed off their fur annually between June and July leaving a much softer, rich brown coat. Adult Bighorns rams weigh on average of 136kg in winter and 100kg in spring compared to the ewes' average weight of 50kg.
Bighorn Sheep live in steep, Cliffs, rock rims, rock outcroppings, and bluffs with sparse cover of trees or shrubs typify escape habitat, which provides both thermal and hiding cover against predators. They inhabit the highest parts of the mountains, which people rarely reach. Their range is from southern Canada to Colorado with Colorado having the largest population of the species anywhere.
Bighorn Sheep eat different foods depending on the season. They are primarily grazers, feeding in meadows, open woodland, and alpine tundra. They do however also eat forbs in the summer and browse in the winter. Grasses eaten by Bighorn Sheep include bluegrass, sedges, wheat grass, bromes and fescues. Browse includes willow, mountain mahogany, sage, rabbit brush, winterfat and bitter brush white the orbs include clover, cinquefoil and phlox. Bighorn sheep obtain water from dew, streams, lakes, springs, ponds, catchment tanks, troughs, guzzlers, and developed seeps or springs.
Bighorn Sheep meat has a similar taste to lamb with a good texture and flavor. They are sought after by hunters and considered the most regal of all big game animals. Due to disease, hunting, and habitat changes, its population dropped from 1.5 million in the nineteenth century to less than 70,000 today in North America.
Bighorn Sheep live in herds of 5 to 15 sheep with groups of males being much smaller and usually numbering 2 to 5 individuals. The females team up in winter to form bands of as many as 100 animals and the males compete for them by having butting contests; charging at each other at high speeds and crashing their heads. These battles may last as long as 24 hours with the victor gaining access to mate with the receptive ewes. Bighorn Sheep mate from November and December and ewes through a gestation period of 175 days and eventually give birth to a single lamb with a soft, light colored coat. The lambs can scale mountains just like their mothers when they are one day old and they are weaned when they are four months old. Bighorn Sheep can live for as long as 10 to 20 years with the ewes having a shorter lifespan.
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