Eagle Hunting

Eagle hunting in Central Asia

Eagle Hunting in Central Asia is a fascinating tradition and is considered a ‘must-see’ while visiting the region. The eagle hunting in Central Asia focuses on Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan while smaller birds of prey like falcons are more commonly used for hunting in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. The hunters are called berkutchi or kusbergi and their ancestors have been prowling the plains of Central Asia for thousands of years. These men and their birds were the heroes of their villages as they brought back precious sources of warmth and nourishment.

The nomadic rituals and experiences of eagle hunting were passed from father to the son for many, many generations until the Russians occupied Kyrgyzstan. The Soviet era saw the nomadic people of Asia forced to live in villages which they still mostly do and their unique way of living was nearly lost. The regained freedom has allowed the nomads to flourish once more, and while the eagles are not as needed as they once were, Central Asia is still determined to preserve this ancient survival technique that revolves around the connection between man and bird. Although you may come across them in a few places, a Berkut or Golden Eagle show is an excellent way to highlight the power and beauty of these animals.

Kyrgyzstan eagle hunting with mountains in the background
Kazakh culture of eagle hunting

Where to see Eagle hunting in Kyrgyzstan

The summertime in Kyrgyzstan is full of festivals and other cultural events. Festivals, skill-sharing sessions, and private demonstrations are all great ways for tourists to see the awe-inspiring eagles and their masters at work. Be aware that during the summer months of March to September, when the birds’ malt, the eagles will not be mostly flying to kill so you’ll see the magnificence of the eagles at the hands of their owners or even on your own hand but mostly see only falcons and hawks hunting.

Issyk Kul is a huge lake in Eastern Kyrgyzstan where many eagle hunting activities take place. It’s a busy location for hunters to learn and raise awareness of their craft. The busiest festivals, such as the Eagle Hunting Festival in Bokonbayevo village, are a good place to taste the culture of the region. Other possible locations to see eagle hunting include Zayzhy, Chon Kemin and Zhety Oguz

It is always a good idea to have a conversation with the local people who provide you with the possibility to see this old traidition (with the help of a translator, where necessary). 

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Where to see Eagle hunting in Kazakhstan

When visiting Saryarka, keep an eye out for the majestic birds of prey. Eagles, raptors, and owls all reside in the World Heritage Site. The ancient traditions of nomadic people create connections to past hunters who continue eagle hunting to survive.

How Golden Eagles are Trained in Central Asia

At the beginning of his (very very rarely a woman) journey, a berkutchi must either capture a wild eagle or remove a fledgling from its nest, both extremely dangerous tasks. Female birds are still the preference as they are larger and hunt with more aggression, a vital attribute when the winter survival of many families relied on their abilities.

The first successful expedition will take as long as three to four years to prepare for. The eagle will learn to ‘chase’ a stuffed fox that has been tied to a length of rope or live rabbits and then fly immediately fly back to her master. When the eagle does well, she will be rewarded with a small portion of the kill.

Training is hard work, during the hunting season frequent forays into the wilderness are needed. The bird sits on the hunter’s heavy leather-gloved hand and wears a hood to keep her calm. Once an animal has been spotted the hood is removed and the swift, deadly attack is over in moments. During the rest of the year, outside the hunting season, three hours of intense interaction is needed to keep the eagle tame and the bond strong enough.

Relationship of the bird and the eagle hunter

The ethos of eagle Hunting in Kyrgyzstan is for the hunter to create and maintain a strong bond with their companion. Eagles are usually fierce in their independence, so training from a very young age is important. A novice berkutchi and his eaglet will spend every hour together. The bird must learn to rely on his master. Tools include a permanent hood, the singing of songs, and being the only source of food.

The berkutchi we met on our trip told us that, when his bird is on his shoulder, he can feel that she has picked up a scent by the smallest movement of her talon. After the ritualised twenty years an eagle will be honoured with a ceremonial release into freedom.

Hold the golden eagle

We were encouraged to dress up in a traditional costume which was fun. The eagle was surprisingly heavy, and it was unnerving to have her stretch her awesome wings as she sat on my gloved arm.

Ethics of Eagle hunting

An authentic relationship between the eagles and their master may seem cruel to Western eyes but it is one of respect. Make the time and effort to talk to the hunters to learn about the tradition they are so proud of.  

Eagle hunting included in Central Asia Tour

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