Due to their limited numbers, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep remain on the endangered species list.
- Bighorn sheep can be found on the cliffs and steep hills on the road from Mammoth Hot Springs to Gardiner, Montana.
- Rocky outcrops in the Lamar Valley are also good places to look.
- A band of ewes and lambs are often spotted on Dunraven Pass.
Rocky Mountain bighorns inhabit the mountains from Canada south to New Mexico. A few hundred of these call Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding area their home.
- The animal has a stocky body, a white rump and a brown-gray coat.
- Researchers believe that Yellowstone’s annual bighorn sheep population averages between 150 and 225.
- Although Bighorn sheep prefer the grasses and sedges found in open meadows, they find safety on rocky ledges and rugged terrain.
- They are nimble and have a well-developed sense of balance, allowing them to seemingly walk on sheer cliffs and mountainsides.
- Although they look similar to goats, bighorn sheep are actually members of the cattle family.
- They live in herds year-round where the rams (males) engage in a fierce competition for mating rights every November and December.
- Although the rams fiercely butt one another in the head with horns weighing up to forty pounds, calcium deposits known as ossicones protect the animals from brain damage.
- Bighorn sheep also possess unique hooves. Hard and durable on the outside, the sheep’s hooves feature a spongy underside allowing them to grip rocks and leap effortlessly from one crag to another.
- When not busy wandering across Yellowstone’s steep terrain, bighorn sheep typically graze on grass and brush.
- The ewes have a keen sense of lurking danger from mountain lions, eagles, and coyotes and are responsible for leading the rest of the herd to safety atop peaks inaccessible to their predators.
- Even with their unusual sense of balance and comfort with climbing steep terrain, bighorn sheep do occasionally fall off cliffs to their deaths.
Best Places for Viewing Bighorn Sheep
Bighorn are not often seen in Yellowstone; mainly because of the limited areas they are found. Look for them along the cliffs and steep hills on the road from Mammoth Hot Springs to Gardiner, Montana. Rocky outcrops in the Lamar Valley are also good places to look.
Summering bands of bighorn sheep are found in the Gallatin and Washburn Mountain Ranges, the Absarokas Mountains, and occasionally in the Red Mountains. On Dunraven Pass, a section of the Grand Loop Road in the Park, a band of ewes and lambs has become somewhat accustomed to summer traffic. These bighorns cause numerous traffic jams.
If you can get close to a bighorn sheep, you must be something of a mountain goat yourself. However, when a herd of animals becomes accustomed to humans and their vehicles, there is a real danger of a collision between an animal and a car.
Please keep a wary eye out for bighorn sheep, especially in the rugged canyon areas, as they move back and forth across the road from rivers and streams to the rugged cliffs and mountainsides.
And as with all wildlife, feeding bighorn sheep jeopardizes their ability to forage for food for themselves.