Desert Bighorn Sheep - Summary Page

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This page last updated on 02/19/2019

(Fig. 01) "The Ancient One"
Over the course of my nine years of hiking, I have had the opportunity to capture sightings of Desert Bighorn Sheep on at least 16 different occasions. Click here for a list of all of the pages on this site with pictures of Desert Bighorn Sheep ... Index for Category - Desert Bighorn Sheep.

The picture in (Fig. 01) was taken at Valley of Fire State Park in Overton, Nevada back in 2012. After showing it to a park ranger, he immediately said, "oh yea, that's "the Ancient One". Though the average age is 10-20 years, by counting the rings on his horns he appears to be roughly 50 years old. In contrast, some of the pictures we captured today (Fig. 02 - below) were of some lambs that appeared to be less than a month old. The pictures from this most recent sighting on 02/16/2019, also in the Valley of Fire State Park, are displayed below the Description of Desert Bighorn Sheep that follows.

Description - Desert Bighorn Sheep: The scientific name of Desert Bighorn Sheep is Ovis canadensis nelsoni. Its classification is a mammal. Desert bighorn sheep are stocky, heavy-bodied sheep, similar in size to mule deer. They are generally 5 feet in length. Weights of mature rams range from 140 to 180 pounds, while ewes are somewhat smaller, 90 to 150 pounds. The bighorn's body is compact and muscular; the muzzle, narrow and pointed; the ears, short and pointed; the tail, very short. The fur is deerlike and usually a shade of brown with whitish rump patches. The fur is smooth and composed of an outer coat of brittle guard hairs and short, gray, crimped fleece underfur. The summer coat is a rich, glossy brown but it becomes quite faded by late winter. The life span of desert bighorn sheep is typically 10–20 years. Due to their unique concave elastic hooves, bighorn are able to climb the steep, rocky terrain of the desert mountains with speed and agility. They rely on their keen eyesight to detect potential predators, such as mountain lions, coyotes, and bobcats, and they use their climbing ability to escape. Both genders develop horns, though the ewes' horns are much smaller and lighter and do not tend to curl. After eight years of growth, the horns of an adult ram may weigh more than 30 pounds. Annual growth rings indicate the animal's age. Both rams and ewes use their horns as tools to break open cactus and for fighting. Their typical diet is mainly grasses. When grasses are unavailable, they turn to other food sources, such as sedges, forbs, or cacti. Bighorns have a complex 9-stage digestive process that allows them to maximize removal of nutrients from food of marginal quality.

The characteristics and behavior of desert bighorn sheep generally follow those of other bighorn sheep, except for adaptation to the lack of water in the desert. They can go for extended periods of time without drinking water. Southern desert bighorn sheep are adapted to a desert mountain environment with little or no permanent water. Some may go without visiting water for weeks or months, sustaining their body moisture from food and from rainwater collected in temporary rock pools. They may have the ability to lose up to 30% of their body weight and still survive. After drinking water, they quickly recover from their dehydrated condition.

Desert bighorn sheep are social, forming herds of eight to 10 individuals, and sometimes more. Rams battle to determine the dominant animal, which then gains possession of the ewes. Bighorn sheep live in separate ram and ewe bands most of the year. Usually the breeding season is July–October, but breeding may occur anytime in the desert due to suitable climatic conditions. Gestation lasts 150–180 days, and the lambs are usually born in late winter with most ewes giving birth to one lamb per year.

(Fig. 02) These shots were captured by Robert Croke
02/16/2019 Trip Notes:  After hiking Valley of Fire's Fire Wave and visiting Silica Dome, we spotted a herd of nearly 16 desert Bighorn sheep grazing next to the side of the road south, just pass the entrance and parking area to Mouse's Tank (Figs. 03 thru 08). They were all over the pace gorging on the fresh grass from the rains of the previous week. As we were leaving, not a 100 yards further down the road we spotted four more high on a ledge (Figs. 09 thru 11). These two sightings made our whole day. Not only is it the largest herd that any of us have ever encountered, it contained some of the youngest lambs that any of us have ever seen. It made for a perfect daytrip.

(Fig. 03) Another shot taken by Robert Croke
(Fig. 04)
(Fig. 05) title "Standing Proud"
(Fig. 06)
(Fig. 07) Mom watching over baby
(Fig. 08) My hiking partner and today's driver, Robert Croke
(Fig. 09) These guys were spotted by our fellow hiking partner Cynthia Pace
(Fig. 10)
(Fig. 11)
Return to the previous page ... Fire Wave - VOF - 02/16/2019 Trip Notes

Note: Every attempt is made to provide accurate information, but occasionally depictions are inaccurate by error of mapping, navigation or cataloging. The information on this site is provided without any warranty, express or implied, and is for informational and historical purposes only.