Bighorn sheep males, females and yearlings are referred to as rams, ewes, and lambs. During the summer, rams establish order of dominance by the size of their horns. When two bands of bighorns meet, rams possessing horns of equal size often engage in head butting bouts. Head butting also occurs when two rams are following the same ewe during breeding season. The victor wins the right to breed with the ewes.
Breeding or rutting season lasts from mid-October to December. Lambs are born from mid-April through late June. They weigh about 9 pounds. Twins are very rare. The first two weeks of life only milk is suckled, then the lambs will eat grasses and plants.
During the summer, bighorn sheep live on high mountain slopes with rugged terrain and in the foothills near rocky cliffs in the winter. Both areas are near permanent water sources. They depend primarily on grasses and forbs (a herbaceous flowering plant that is not grasses, sedges and rushes) for food, and shrubs depending on the season. In spring and summer, mineral licks containing salts are eagerly sought.
Rocky Mountain bighorns inhabit the mountains from Canada south to New Mexico. They are relatives of goats, and have balance-aiding split hooves and rough hoof bottoms for natural grip. These attributes, along with keen vision, help them move easily about rocky, rugged mountain terrain.
Wild sheep live in social groups, but rams and ewes typically meet only to mate. Rams live in bachelor groups and females live in herds with other females and their young rams. When fall mating arrives, rams gather in larger groups and ram fighting escalates. Usually only stronger, older rams with bigger horns are able to mate.
In winter, bighorn herds move to lower-elevation mountain pastures. In all seasons, these animals eat available grass, seeds, and plants. They regurgitate their food to chew it as cud before swallowing it for final digestion.
Lambs are born each spring on high, secluded ledges protected from bighorn predators such as wolves, coyotes, and mountain lions—though not the golden eagles which target lambs. Young can walk soon after birth, and at one week old each lamb and its mother join others in a herd. Lambs are playful and independent, though their mothers nurse them occasionally for four to six months.
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