Desert bighorn sheep, Ovis canadensis nelsoni

About this species

Federal: Endangered

(-) Declining


Bovidae, which includes bison, goats, and wildebeest

Deserts and mountains of the Southwestern US and Northwestern Mexico


Desert bighorn sheep are stocky sheep with brownish coats. Male rams can weigh between 100 to 250 pounds. In Los Angeles, they are unlikely to be mistaken for anything other than perhaps a mule deer. However, males and females develop horns soon after birth that will continue to grow for the rest of their life (usually 10-20 years).

Habitat & Behavior

Desert bighorn sheep inhabit rocky slopes and cliffs, canyons, washes and alluvial fans. They prefer rugged and open habitats with grasses and forbs for grazing. Desert bighorn sheep will also feed on shrubs, such as Encelia or acacia.


California Department of Fish and Game has been monitoring bighorn sheep in the San Gabriel Mountains since 1976. In 1980, the population was estimated at approximately 740 individuals – the largest population of mountain sheep in California. However, those numbers have since declined to just 39 bighorn sheep, largely due to habitat fragmentation, habitat loss, and modification, human disturbance, transportation construction, disease, poaching, and fire suppression.


A recovery plan for the Desert bighorn sheep was developed in 2000. Attempts have been made to connect all portions of their existing habitat to allow the sheep to move freely through the Peninsular Ranges.

Where can you spot it?

Desert bighorn Sheep may be seen in the Sheep Mountain Wilderness in the San Gabriel Mountains, as well as Lookout Mountain, South Fork Lytle Creek, and Middle Fork Lytle Creek. Additionally, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Forest Service, and Society for the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep organize an annual San Gabriel Bighorn Sheep Survey every spring, open to the general public.

What is critical habitat?

Critical habitat refers to an area that is believed to be essential to the conservation of a federally endangered or threatened species. The designated area does not necessarily include the species entire range.

Learn more

Data source: Critical habitat from US Fish and Wildlife Service, accessed via ECOS (Environmental Conservation Online System)


  • California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Peninsular Desert Bighorn Sheep Conservation.” [link]