NATURE NARRATIVES: Anticipating Bighorn Day

By Melissa Walker
       Few communities can boast that the symbol of Rocky Mountain wilderness grazes within their city limits. But that is exactly the case in Colorado Springs where Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep are often spotted on the ridges north of Garden of the Gods Park.

Three bighorns duke it out. Such fights are typical in mating season.
Bret Tennis photo

       In late 2005, John Koshak of the Colorado Division of Wildlife encouraged the staff of the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center to organize an event to celebrate our official state mammal. It would also highlight the 60th anniversary of the re-introduction of bighorn sheep to the Colorado Springs area.
       The inaugural Bighorn Sheep Day was held on the Saturday of Presidents Day weekend in 2006. Even on a frigid day with single-digit temperatures, over a thousand people attended that first festival. They were excited to gaze through powerful telescopes to observe the majestic bighorn sheep grazing on the rocky ridges of their natural habitat.
       In February 2010, I enjoyed attending the fifth annual Bighorn Sheep Day as a citizen, instead of being on the park staff. As in the previous four years, the bighorns attended their own festival, basking in the winter sun on east-facing hillsides in clear view of the Visitor Center. In addition to observing huge bighorn rams, we visitors watched a separate herd of about 50 bighorn ewes grazing on sparse winter grasses farther up the mountain.
       Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep are well adapted to their rugged mountain habitat. The sheep's two-toed hooves are designed for rocky terrain: The back part of the hoof is padded and conforms to rock surfaces, while the front part is more flexible to maintain contact with irregular rock surfaces. Their ability to cling to steep cliffs and canyon walls is a matter of life and death when bighorns must escape from less sure-footed predators.
       The Rampart Range bighorn herd numbers about 100 sheep, while the estimated size of the Pikes Peak herd farther west is 275 sheep.
       This year's Bighorn Sheep Day will be Saturday, Feb. 12 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center, 1805 North 30th St.

Melissa Walker, an area naturalist, posts regular entries in her online blog at naturenarratives.com. She has given her permission to reprint selected pieces in the Westside Pioneer.