Bighorn Sheep Behavior: Facts You Should Know!


Bighorn Sheep Behavior: Facts You Should Know!

North America’s native Bighorn sheep species is the bighorn. They are named after their “big and curled horns.” Sheep are recognized for being gentle and docile. But what about bighorns? Let us explore.

The following are some of the most typical behaviors that can be witnessed in bighorn sheep.

  1. Playful
  2. Matrilineal
  3. Philopatry
  4. Diurnal
  5. Social
  6. Terrestrial
  7. Defensive
  8. Congregatory 
  9. Polygyny (mating behavior) 
  10. Migratory 

Let us get up close and personal with these sheep species’ typical behavior to learn more about them.


Bighorn lambs are most frequently observed to be playful.

One can observe the amusing behavior of bighorn lambs when food is plentiful and the lambs are youthful in the spring. Among the lambs, fights and mounting are some of the most common plays.


The bighorn social system is matrilineal. In other words, the foundation of such groups is female connections.

Females, aka the ewes, display high levels of philopatry and form “ewe groups” between which males move during the breeding season.


The philopatric behavior of bighorns is mostly seen among females, who have smaller home ranges than males.

Bighorn Sheep Behavior
Image Credit: Bighorn Sheep Portrait by Jean Beaufort (CC0 1.0)

Note: Philopatric behavior refers to the tendency of an organism to stay in or habitually return to a particular area. 


As diurnal animals, bighorns remain awake throughout the day and graze in the morning, midday, and dusk. Then, for the night, they retire to their sleeping quarters.

Some areas are repeatedly used as bighorn sheep’s sleeping spots. 


Bighorn sheep are extremely sociable animals, occasionally establishing flocks of up to 100, while smaller groups of 8 to 10 are more typical. 

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Bighorn sheep of all genders and ages congregate in larger herds for the winter months. Then an elder ewe guides other flock sheep into lower valley elevations.


Males fight for the right to mate with a female, not to defend their territories typically. Males of bighorn sheep are noted for engaging in the head-to-head battle.


Although bighorn sheep are not typically known to be violent, they can be rather defensive, particularly during the mating season.


Bighorn sheep move in flocks. However, it has been observed that they form separate groups based on gender. 

Polygyny (mating behavior) 

Rams congregate in bigger groups during fall mating, and it is in this season that the ram fighting intensifies.

Typically, only mature, tougher rams with larger horns get the chance to mate.


Bighorn sheep exhibit various forms of migratory behavior. Local movements within habitat types, seasonal movements between home ranges, and uncommon natal dispersals are part of the migration pattern.

Regional changes primarily influence seasonal migrations in females in the quality and accessibility of feed. Rams often travel in the spring and summer for better seasonal fodder. Males also migrate for breeding purposes. 

Bighorn Sheep Subspecies ?

There are three subspecies of bighorn sheep:

  • The Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep
  • The Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep
  • The Desert bighorn sheep

Their scientific name is Ovis canadensis, and they are recognized for their large, curving horns. The US government has listed two species, the Sierra Nevada and Peninsular bighorn sheep, as endangered.


Bighorn sheeps are magnificent, and their horns give them a gorgeous appearance. They wander in groups and are gregarious and playful, just like other sheep species.

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