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Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis) Fact Sheet: Summary

Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis)

Desert Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis) Fact Sheet

Bighorned Sheep

Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis)

Image credit: © Jwanamaker via Wikimedia Commons; CC BY-SA 3.0. Public domain.


Taxonomy Physical Characteristics

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia (mammals) (Linnaeus, 1758)

Order: Artiodactyla* (or Cetartiodactyla) (even-toed hoofed animals: includes pigs, sheep goats, cattle, deer) (Owen 1848)

Family: Bovidae (buffalo, cattle, sheep, goats) (Gray, 1821)

Subfamily: Caprinae (goats, sheep) (Gray, 1821)

Genus: Ovis (sheep, mouflons, urial, argali, bighorn, thin horns snow sheep, Dall's sheep) (Linnaeus, 1758)

Species: Ovis canadensis (Shaw, 1804) - bighorn sheep

*Subspecies: O. c. auduboni (Merriam, 1901)
Subspecies: O. c. californiana (Douglas, 1829) - California bighorn sheep
Subspecies: O. c. canadensis (Shaw, 1804) - Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep
Subspecies: O. c. cremnobates (Elliot, 1904) - Peninsular bighorn sheep
Subspecies: O. c. mexicana (Merriam, 1901) - desert bighorn sheep
Subspecies: O. c. nelsoni (Merriam, 1897) - Nelson's/Nelson bighorn sheep, Peninsular bighorn sheep, desert bighorn sheep
Subspecies: O. c. weemsi (Goldman, 1937)

*Subspecies designations are still debated.

Body Weight
Male: 68-90 kg (150-200 lb)
Female: 45-57 kg (100-125 lb)

Body Length
127-157 cm (50-62 in)

Shoulder Height
81-101 cm (32-40 in)

Color is pale brown; some lighter. Whitish rump patch. Outer coat of guard hairs with fleece underfur. Molt during summer.

Distribution & Status Behavior & Ecology

Western Canada (British Columbia) and western United States, and Sonora and Baja California in Mexico

Moutainous landscapes (rough, rocky terrain), shrublands, deserts

IUCN Status
Least Concern at species level (2019 assessment) (Festa-Bianchet  2020)

CITES Appendix
Appendix II (population of Mexico only); all other populations not listed

Other Designations
Endandered status for two subspecies under the US Endangered Species Act

Population in Wild
Reliable estimates not available.

Activity Cycle
Predominantly diurnal, but sometimes active at night.

Social Groups
Gregarious. Matrilineal; groups of related females and offspring. Males move among female groups.

Herbivorous. Specific diet depends on the geographic region in which a population occurs in. Mostly grass; also shrubs, forbs, cacti.

Mainly mountain lions and humans. Also, wolf, coyote, bobcat, golden eagle. Occasionally lynx, black or grizzly bears, and gray fox.

Reproduction & Development Species Highlights

Sexual Maturity
Males: by 1.5 years old
Females: typically mate at 2.5 years (girth birth when 3 years old)

6 months (171-185 days)

Litter Size
Usually 1, sometimes 2

Birth Weight
8-10 lbs

Age at Weaning
By 6 months old

Typical Life Expectancy
Wild populations: males, 9-12 years; females, 10-14 years
Managed care: median life expectancy of about 10 years for female Peninsular bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni)

Feature Facts

  • Live in harsh terrain
  • Can go without drinking for 5 to 15 days
  • Both sexes grow horns; those of males are enormous (30-40 pounds)
  • Males engage in head-to-head combat during mating season
  • Females exhibit site fidelity to natal home range
  • Compete with mule deer and livestock (cattle, horses, domestic goals) for food resources
  • Overall, populations well-managed; diseases and illegal hunting in Mexico pose greatest threats to survival
  • ​A small group of desert bighorn sheep lives in the Safari Park's Condor Ridge

About This Fact Sheet

© 2002-2020 San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. Minor updates to Taxonomy, Population Status & Conservation in 2017. IUCN Status updated Oct 2020.


How to cite: Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis) Fact Sheet. c2002-2020. San Diego (CA): San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance; [accessed YYYY Mmm dd]. bighornsheep
(note: replace YYYY Mmm dd with date accessed, e.g., 2015 Sep 10)


Disclaimer: Although San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance makes every attempt to provide accurate information, some of the facts provided may become outdated or replaced by new research findings. Questions and comments may be addressed to

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