Falconry in Kyrgyzstan: See Ancient Traditions with Your Own Eyes
What’s unique about falconry in Kyrgyzstan? Learn how Kyrgyz men use the traditional training practices of their ancestors to hunt with eagles today.
Falconry is an ancient trademark of the Kyrgyz nomads that roamed the steppes of Central Asia. While many people associate hawks and falcons with this way of hunting, the people of Kyrgyzstan mainly employed eagles, considering hawks and falcons to be for amateurs. While eagle hunting was more popular in past centuries, it’s not as prominent in Kyrgyzstan now. However, Kyrgyzstan still has a number of expert hunters that train and use golden eagles to this day who are determined to keep this ancient practice alive.
ABOUT THE EAGLE
Golden eagles can have a wing span of up to 2.3 meters (7.5 ft), can weigh anywhere from 3 – 7 kilograms (5-15 lbs), and dive at unbelievable speeds of up to 241 km/hr (150 mph). In the mountains of the Tien Shan, they usually live at altitudes of over 2,500 meters (8,200 ft) and hunt in the surrounding alpine meadows. The talons of a golden eagle can apply 15 times more pressure than the human hand!
ABOUT THE TRAINING
To successfully hunt with a golden eagle, the hunter, or “berkutchi,” has to spend about 3-4 years training it. However, after it is trained, the berkutchi will be able to hunt with it for well over a decade. The eagle wears a leather hood during the day to increase its dependence on the trainer. The berkutchi will often talk and sing to the eagle to train it to listen only to his voice. He is also the only one that feeds it, creating a strong bond between the eagle and the berkutchi. The art of eagle training is often passed down orally from father to son.
ABOUT THE HUNT
When the berkutchi takes his eagle out to hunt, he wears a heavy leather glove and will leave the hood over the bird’s eyes until he spots an animal running across a meadow. When he removes the hood, the eagle quickly hones in on the prey, springboards of his master’s arm and attacks. The eagle will then swiftly break the neck of its prey, which can be anything from a rabbit to a fox to a young wolf. Trained to wait for its master, the eagle won’t begin eating until the berkutchi is at his side. The eagle only eats a portion of the kill. The rest of the meat and the animal pelt are used by the berkutchi.
Hunting season is from October to February.
For travelers interested in learning more about traditional Kyrgyz eagle hunting, tours are available that include visits to local hunters who can explain more of the intricacies of training and hunting with these magnificent birds of prey. It’s a fantastic way to gain more insight into the culture of Kyrgyzstan.