Story and Photos by Kim Latimer
He’s a majestic beast. In lore and culture he represents the north and the north wind. Up close he is both regal and resplendent. It seems fitting that his kind is reserved for the most magical children’s literature.
I’m truly floored when any creature stares directly into my eyes. It’s not something that happens often between people. Although he stared directly at me, it was clear I was not the focus of his attention. The snowy owl’s head constantly twitches and cocks. His thoughts lie yards from here, transfixed with the rustling leaves next door and the chatter of a squirrel down the lane.
Gimli is his name, son of Hedwig, the snowy owl that starred in the first Harry Potter film. He was bred in Scotland and arrived in Thunder Bay in November at the tender age of eight months. Like any young creature, he’s fidgety—not yet comfortable enough to perch on Kim Amonson’s kind and confident glove. It’s been four years since she became a certified falconer and the guardian of a peregrine falcon, a hawk, and now Gimli.
“I’m learning that snowy owls are very stubborn, he has horrible breath, and it takes patience,” she says while adoringly stroking him with her free hand. “We had to work really hard to get him to come to the glove, and it takes a lot of dedication.”
Amonson says she and Gimli have months of training and bonding ahead of them. He is a piece of her greater vision to someday build a centre in Thunder Bay that will offer education about birds of prey, as well as rehabilitation and sanctuary. She has high hopes that Gimli will be able to help teach people about birds of prey through live educational demonstrations and visits.
“There is no rehabilitation centre in the northwest for injured birds. Often times I am called to come to assess birds of prey that have been found. Snowy owls are often hit in vehicle collisions. There’s not much we can do for them and many are left or euthanized because there is no place to care for them. I think that’s a problem. It’s sad and it goes against my nature to see this happen.” This is why she’s seeking funding from places like the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation and potential investors, in the hope that someday she can offer care. She has her eye on locations like Fort William Historical Park and a large private property close to the city.
If the opportunity should arise, there’s no denying that these birds are incredible to see up close. “If I had the opportunity to see one when I was child, rather than only in pictures in National Geographic, then I would’ve become a falconer much earlier in life,” she says.
Facts About Snowy Owls:
1. There are about 290,000 snowy owls in the world.
2. Common causes of injury and death for snowy owls are collisions with vehicles, utility lines, and aircraft.
3. They mate for life.
4. The average lifespan of a snowy owl in the wild is 9.5 years, and 28 years in captivity.
5. They can rotate their heads 270 degrees in each direction.
6. Snowy owls are not on the endangered list, but are a protected species.