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Travel: Georgetown celebrates bighorn sheep festival

Georgetown honors Colorado's state mammal.

Nov. 12 event featues wildlife watching, family activities

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Colorado’s bighorn sheep are, for the most part, peaceful animals, spending most of their time browsing on grass and wildflowers in some of the most sublime landscapes in the country.

But for a few weeks every year right about this time, primal mating instincts kick in, and the rams posture, paw and huff, sometimes charging each other in an impressive display of animal power that culminates with a clash of their mighty curled horns. More info here …

Georgetown will celebrate Colorado’s state mammal Nov. 12 (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) with the sixth annual Bighorn Sheep Festival, a wildlife-oriented event that includes fun for the entire family, with presentations on wildlife topics like winter bird feeding, as well as face-painting and a climbing wall for kids.

Nestled next to I-70 and boasting the the largest herd of bighorn sheep in the state, Georgetown is the perfect spot to learn more about the habits and nature of these home-grown, high-altitude rock climbers.

“During the breeding season, November and December, bighorn sheep display some of their most interesting behaviors,” said Mary McCormac, education coordinator for the northeast region at Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “From clashing horns to lip curls, the sheep put on a good show for wildlife watchers and Georgetown provides the ideal location to see the sheep in action.”

Trained Colorado Parks and Wildlife volunteers will be on hand at the bighorn sheep viewing station to help viewers locate the sheep, as well as offer a cup of hot cider or cocoa and a brief lesson on the majestic mammals.

Activities: 

  • Climb like a bighorn sheep on the climbing wall provided by the Colorado Army National Guard
  • Make sheep horns of your own to take home or get your face painted like a sheep – showcase all in the noon parade led by Elbert the Bighorn
  • Learn about bighorn behavior while dancing the bighorn sheep hokey pokey with Elbert the Bighorn
  • Sit by the fire, listen to live music, and visit partner organization booths in the park
  • Try Tommyknocker’s own bighorn sheep brew, Butt Head Bock Lager, or snack on festival fare in the park
  • Shop for wildlife-related art, gifts, crafts, and other merchandise in downtown Georgetown
  • Enjoy mountain views and learn about Georgetown’s history and bighorn sheep on a Georgetown Loop Railroad tour

Presentations:

  • 11 a.m.: Catching Poachers: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Protecting Colorado’s Wildlife
  • 1:30 p.m.: Bighorn Sheep of Georgetown
  • 2:30 p.m.: Winter Bird Feeding

From the Colorado Division of Wildlife website:

Colorado is home to the largest population of the species anywhere. The animals are five to six feet long with a tail three to six inches in length. Rams weigh 150-250 pounds, ewes 120-200. Males are about three feet high at the shoulder, ewes slightly less. Color is usually grayish brown, with a paler belly and a white rump patch. The massive, coiled horns of mature rams may make up to 10 percent of the body weight. Ewes have spike-like horns.

Hunting bighorns is carefully regulated. Approximately 100 to 300 sheep are harvested annually. Parasitic disease is common in bighorns. Coyotes, mountain lions and eagles prey on them, and some bighorns succumb to accidental falls.

Range: There are two species of bighorn in Colorado, the Rocky Mountain, which is native, and the desert bighorn, introduced near Colorado National Monument in 1979. Colorado herds are widely scattered throughout the mountains and foothills of the state. In North America, species of bighorn occur from South British Columbia, southwest Alberta, Idaho and Montana to southeast California, Arizona and New Mexico.

Habitat: Bighorns typically occur in steep, high mountain terrain. In Colorado, they prefer habitat dominated by grass, low shrubs, rock cover and areas near open escape. They often retreat to rest on inaccessible cliffs. Many bands now spend all year near timberline on what used to be their traditional summer range.

Diet: Bighorn are primarily grazers, feeding in meadows, open woodland, and alpine tundra. However, they will also eat forbs (herbaceous plants) in the summer and browse in the winter. Grasses eaten by bighorn include bluegrass, sedges, wheat grass, bromes and fescues. Browse includes willow, mountain mahogany, winterfat and bitter brush. Forbs include clover, cinquefoil and phlox.

Reproduction: Gestation averages five to six months or about 175 days. Breeding occurs in November and December with a peak in early December. Lambs are born April through July, with the peak in late May and early June. A single lamb is the norm. Lambs can climb as well as their mothers when they are only a day old. Lambs are weaned at about four months, and sometimes as early as one month. All teeth are permanent by four years old. Bighorns can live to be 15 to 20 years old, but seldom do in the wild. Ewes usually live to be 10 to 12 years old. Rams seem to have a somewhat higher mortality rate.

For more information, see the Natural Diversity Information Source species profile.

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One Response

  1. Another educational opportunity for those youngsters, regardless of their age.

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