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Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis) Fact Sheet: Distribution & Habitat

Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis)


Historical Distribution: (Cowan's 1940 taxonomy). Records indicate at least 97 populations of desert bighorn occurred in California at one point.

  • Ovis c. canadensis (Rocky mountain bighorn) - British Columbia, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Oregon, Washington
  • Ovis c. californiana (California bighorn) - British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Nevada,California
  • Ovis c. nelsoni (Nelson bighorn) - California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona,
  • Ovis c. mexicana (Mexicana bighorn) - Arizona, New Mexico, Mexico
  • Ovis c. cremnobates (Peninsular bighorn) - Upper Baja
  • Ovis c. weemsi (Weems bighorn) - Lower Baja

Current Distribution: (Shackleton, 1997). Today, 61 bighorn populations remain (Toweill & Geist, 1999). The Recovery Plan for Bighorn Sheep in the Peninsular Ranges, California (2000) indicates 8 ewe subpopulations in Riverside, Imperial, and San Diego counties from the San Jacinto Mountains to the Mexican border.

  • Ovis c. canadensis (Rocky Mountain bighorn) - Rocky mountains from Colorado north into British Columbia
  • Ovis c. californiana (California bighorn) - scattered populations east of the Rocky Mountains from Central California to central British Columbia
  • Ovis c. cremnobates (Peninsular bighorn) - Upper Baja
  • Ovis c. mexicana (Mexicana bighorn) - Western Sonora; extinct in much of former range
  • Ovis c. nelsoni (Nelson bighorn) - Central Baja to SW Colorado; scattered populations to eastern Texas. Includes Ovis c. cremnobates
  • Ovis c. weemsi (Weems bighorn) - Extreme southern Baja


  • Desert, grasses and shrub mosaic, shrublands
  • Terrain typically rough, rocky and broken by canyons and washes
  • Important habitat requirements are topography, visibility, water, and forage quality and quantity
    • Depend on steep slopes for lambing and to escape predators
    • Use cliff overhangs to rest from the hot desert sun and dry environment
  • Desert bighorn sheep avoid low visibility areas with dense vegetation
  • Distribution of waterholes influences pattern of home range for some desert bighorn subspecies

Bighorn Sheep Distribution

Bighorned Sheep distribution

Bighorn sheep live in the western United States, western Canada, Baja California and Sonora, Mexico.

Adapted from according to IUCN fact sheet. Click here or on map for detailed distribution (IUCN).

Page Citations

Hall (1981)
Hansen (1980)
Risenhoover & Bailey (1985)
Shackleton (1997)
Ostermann et al. (2001)
USFWS (2000)
USGS website (2002)

SDZWA Library Links