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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Big Boys Comin' to Town

'Tis the season here in the Rocky Mountain State...but not for the holidays.

The Big Boys

The Big Boys are back in town!

It's the season so many Coloradans look forward to: the Bighorn Sheep rut. No, we're not voyeurs out here in the Wild West, but we are looking forward to some action. It's time for some good, ol' fashioned, head-slamming, fun!

Throughout the warmer months of the year, the female Bighorn Sheep (ewes), along with their new lambs and older "teenagers" form herds and stay up in the high country. A ram may stay with them...or not. The females define the social structure of the flock and the rams don't play much of a part in it. The Ladies do have a hierarchy within their group and from watching several flocks over time, it also looks to me like certain ewes have specific jobs or positions within the flock.

Lead Ewe
Leader (right): The lead ewe appears to set the pace for the group and keeps watch on the front lines.

Rear Guard (below): Brings up the rear and watches for danger as the flock moves. This particular ewe made it a point to always stay between me and her flock, even though the flock was safely out of the way up the hill. Trust me, I didn't want to mess with her!

Rear Guard
Auntie: Watches out for lambs who aren't hers. Maybe she's not old enough to breed, or maybe her lamb died earlier in the summer. In any case, there are ewes without their own babies who seem to watch out for others' lambs.

Auntie with a lamb (not hers)

The male sheep (rams) either move off and are solitary, or stay together in small bachelor herds for the summer. Some may stay with a flock of ewes. But come November and early December, all of the Bighorn Sheep move down from the high country to lower elevations both to get out of the snow and cold, and to join together to create the next crop of baby Bighorns.

The rams come out of their bachelorhood for a few weeks and mingle with a flock or two in order to vie for attention from the Ladies. Watching a flock at this time of year can make you recall those days of being in a singles bar. The Boys prance, display, scuffle, and sometimes even fight for the privilege of going home with his chosen girl.

The ram on the right is trying to pick a fight.

The Ladies tend to stay off to the side, watching all of this while trying to look disinterested.

And this is where it gets exciting: sometimes all of that pent-up testosterone and parading around results in a serious challenge...the dreaded Head Butting!

The winner is usually the prime-age, bulky Ram with a good set of horns, like this bruiser:

And while the younger, smaller rams tend not to win these scuffles, it seems to be a great way for them to learn strategy and the proper head-butting technique.

Older rams, past their prime, might sneak off with a victory now and then, but they seems to be slower and more prone to injury.

While it seems like they might be angry with eachother, many Rams who smash heads will nuzzle up to eachother afterwards. It's almost as if they are checking to see if the other is OK, or perhaps apologizing for a late hit.

And at the end of the day, tired from all of the activity, the only thing that matters is getting a little shuteye.

All text and photos copyright Nancy Rynes, 2013. You may link to this page, but do not copy any content or images, for any reason, without my written permission.

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