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


  • 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


  • 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


  • 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.

Grand Canyon National Park

Last updated: January 31, 2017