The impact is cringe worthy. Crashing Bighorn sheep, in the fight to be king of the hill, or the dominant male of the herd, induce headaches of onlookers.
Rising up on hind legs, a pair of Bighorn rams, charge each other at speeds of 32 km./h (20 mi./h). Weighing up to 300 pounds, the explosive clash of the Bighorn sheep horns colliding, echoes through the wide, western Canadian Columbia Valley.
For decades, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep have lived in and around the village of Radium Hot Springs, British Columbia. In late spring and and summer, the large sheep move into the nearby mountains to lamb.
During the autumn and winter in Radium, you can’t help but see the sheep with horns, strutting on the sidewalks, meandering in the middle of the road and on the hills along the highway beside the village. The Springs Golf Course in Radium seems to provide a particularly welcoming mountain sheep habitat.
Come early November, every Bighorn ram seems on the prowl. After all it is breeding, or rut season, and the Rocky mountain sheep have one thing on their mind. Who will get the girls? Or in this case the ewes?
Why doesn’t a Bighorn ram skull shatter?
The adult Bighorn male carries an impressive set of large, curled horns. Weighing as much as 13.5 kg. (30 pounds), the rams horn is a weapon of epic battles.
Fighting for dominance, males charge each other again and again, for hours at a time. Where such force would give human a life threatening head injury, the Bighorn sheep skull is thick and bony, preventing injury. The shock absorption quality can take up to 362 kg (800 pounds) of force.
Why can’t the Bighorns just get along?
Bighorn sheep live in social groups, however the ewes and rams typically only meet for mating. Where the boys hang out in groups like bachelors, the females and young rams live in a family-like setting.
Lambs are born every spring, typically on high, secluded ledges. There, predators such as coyotes and wolves, are challenged to reach the Bighorn offspring. At one week of age the lambs join the herd.
All is peaceful in the mountain sheep world until autumn, when Bighorn sheep rut season commences. As the trees to shiver their orange and brown leaves in the autumn chill, the Bighorn head banging escalates. Those with the biggest horns, typically the oldest rams, are victorious. Their prize is the ability to mate.
Celebrating Bighorn sheep in Radium
Each fall, the family-friendly celebration of all things ‘Big Horn’ takes over the village of 800 people. Radium Hot Springs, often referred to as Radium, originates from the hot springs situated close by, in Kootenay National Park.
The name Radium Hot Springs Headbanger Festival may conjure up images of raucous, heavy metal music. However it is the male bighorn sheep that will be doing all the head butting at this event.
Although the festival header refers to mountain ram behaviour, the weekend draws anyone with a love of wildlife and nature. Participants can choose from a wide variety of activities. A vegetarian cooking class, cleverly titled Eat Like A Sheep, thankfully with more on the menu than an actual bighorn sheep diet, nature photography workshops, interpretive hikes and walks with local experts and of course learning more about these Bighorn sheep fighting.
Where is the Radium Headbanger Festival?
Located at the edge of Kootenay National Park in British Columbia, Canada, the Village of Radium Hot Springs is 250 km. (155 mi.) west of Calgary, and 135 km. (84 mi.) west of Banff. The Radium Hot Springs Mineral Pools are within the national park, just prior to entering the village of Radium.
Nestled in the Columbia Valley, the village sits between the Rocky Mountains to the east and the Purcell Mountains to the west. The Columbia River runs just west of the village.
Have you ever seen Bighorn Sheep?