Bighorn Smile

Unlike my blogmate Terry in Montana who is able to photograph Bighorn Sheep in the wild, I visit the small herd at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, New York.  Last week I witnessed for the first time something I had only seen on film.  The bighorn sheep ewes where running around their enclosure and got the two rams riled up.  I was photographing this when the two rams unexpectedly butted horns.  So unexpectedly, I missed the shot.  It is not something I would normally post but it will explain the photo below it.

Two Bighorn Rams collide horns at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, New York.

Two Bighorn Rams collide horns at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, New York.

As you can see, focus is off, you see some of the fencing and a blur of an object between myself and the dueling rams.  I have never seen this before and it was a thrill to hear the sound as the horns of the rams made contact.  After this encounter, the larger ram raised his head and “smiled” while the other one walked off.  Dominance restored, all the sheep went back to browsing for food or laying down to rest.

A Bighorn Ram "smiles" after his confrontation with another ram at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, New York.

A Bighorn Ram "smiles" after his confrontation with another ram at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, New York.

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26 Responses to Bighorn Smile

  1. yesbuts says:

    I know you like nature photography, I thought you would be interested to look at the photographs posted today on the Guardian newspaper web site.


  2. Simone says:

    hahaha that’s a lovely smile. I second what Yesbuts said – look at those shots in the Guardian, they are fantastic.


  3. Karma says:

    Wow, the smile is too funny! Despite the imperfections, I still think the head-butting is a great capture. Kinda nice to know that even pro’s like you occasionally miss the perfect shot. 🙂


  4. montucky says:

    I love the smile! I’ve only seen them butt once in the wild, but it was a spectacle. One big guy took on four challengers, one at a time, each time stepping back and strutting a bit. Then the next would step up for his turn.


    • I can only imagine, Terry. This was a one time collision. The ram in your story was fighting for breeding rights. I’d say his lambs will be very competitive when they grow up big enough to challenge him.


      • montucky says:

        After seeing (and hearing) that, I decided that I could never hunt Big Horns. I still feel good knowing that animals like them still exist in our wild country. They are magnificent!


  5. Psst… don’t put finger in front of lens! 😉
    That second shot is funny! Glad you didn’t miss it.


  6. Anna says:

    LOL Now, that is a great shot of the Bighorn Ram smiling. Neat to witness and photograph the rams dueling.


  7. Nye says:

    Lol, I guess he was smiling because he had won the battle and showing off his winning smile. That’s so adorable. 🙂


  8. absurdoldbird says:

    I have never, ever, see such a peculiar face!! Despite not being as prepared as you’d have liked, these are still good shots.


  9. Gerry says:

    “Well I guess I showed him!”

    The portrait of the victor is really good, Scott–full of life. I’m really glad you included the crash scene, too! I itch to try cropping it closer to the point of impact. I suppose you think it isn’t “worth the effort” for all the technical reasons, but I’ll bet there’s a pony in there somewhere.


  10. Thanks for visiting the zoo!

    Did you know that the horns of a bighorn sheep weigh as much as all the bighorn’s bones combined?

    The “smile” is called a flehmen response. Here is some information on that response, courtesy of Wikipedia:


    • Thank you for stopping by and providing the link to a very interesting animal behavior, Lorrell! Being a wildlife biologist by degree, I knew this behavior had a purpose.

      Can not wait for all the improvements in the zoo to be completed. It is a gem for Syracuse and Onondaga County.


  11. milkayphoto says:

    Now, that smiling ram is definitely greeting card material! 🙂


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  13. Preston says:

    When our golden/lab mix, Benjamin, smiles like that we call it the Ben Grin 🙂


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