The majestic spiral horns of the male bighorn sheep are one of the most easily identifiable in the animal world.

Size Matters!

As members of the bovid family, both male and female sheep have horns, but the male’s horns are much bigger than the female and size often determines who “gets the girl.” Bovid horns are a sheath made of keratin (the same substance that human hair and fingernails are made of) that grows from a bony core attached to the skull.

Age and horn size determines male dominance, although head-butting clashes between males are used as a way to prove dominance and gain access to a particular female during mating season. Younger males engage in these fights more frequently, and older males, with their bigger and stronger horns, will win the match very quickly. Head butting clashes have been known to last for hours and sometimes days.


Although IUCN lists the bighorn sheep as a species of least concern, populations of desert bighorn sheep are less stable.


Bighorn sheep is one species with three living subspecies: the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis canadensis), the Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis sierrae), and the desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni). Desert bighorn are found on the desert slopes of the Peninsular Ranges, in the western-most portion of the Sonoran Desert.


Bighorn sheep are grazers. They eat all types of grasses and brush and will eat twigs and leaves when necessary. In the desert, their diet includes all kinds of cacti, yucca, and fruits. They get most of their moisture from the desert plants, but still need to visit water holes every few days during the summer months.


The most recognizable characteristic of the bighorn sheep are the male’s massive, spiraled horns and their majestic faces. Females, or ewes, are smaller than the male, and have smaller, shorter horns that also curve into a spiral shape, never exceeding a half a curl. They are brownish in color with white rumps and a short tail. The eyes are set on the sides of the head; the ears are short and pointed. They have very acute eyesight and hearing, which helps them navigate through their rocky terrain and avoid predators. Their faces are narrow and pointed.