Desert Bighorn Sheep

A silhouette of a Desert Bighorn sheep ram on the rim of the Grand Canyon.

NPS Photo/ Gerald Allen Buckman

A desert bighorn sheep lamb stands among the cactus.
A lamb forages among the cacti.

NPS Photo/ Robb Hannawacker

Scientific Name

Ovis canadensis nelsoni

Identification

  • Muscular body with chocolate brown fur. They have white fur around the muzzle, rump, and belly.
  • Rams (males) have large curved horns, while females (ewes) have short horns with only slight curvature.
  • Desert bighorn are the largest native animal in the park, with rams weighing up to 250 lbs (113 kg).
A male and female Deserst Bighorn sheep walk single file on a canyon ledge.
A ram is followed by a ewe in the Grand Canyon.

NPS Photo

Habitat

  • The unique landscape found in Grand Canyon is excellent habitat that provides remote refuges for these animals.
  • They are commonly seen on steep terrain and cliffs.
  • They live throughout the American Southwest, including Grand Canyon, Mojave Desert, and Sonoran Desert. The population of desert bighorn sheep in Grand Canyon is a naturally persisting population without direct transplants of bigorns from other areas.
The skull and horns of a Desert bighorn sheep lay bleached on the red rock.

NPS Photo

Behavior

  • Desert Bighorn sheep are highly adapted for desert climates and can go for extended periods without drinking.
  • They are social animals and form herds that are usually 8–10 sheep. Herds as large as 20 sheep have been seen along the Colorado River through Grand Canyon.
  • Rams battle to become the dominant animal in a herd, charging head on at each other with their horns until one ram retreats.
Prepared by Matthew M. Safford, Wildlife Technician, Grand Canyon National Park, 2015.