The Golden Eagle Hunters of Kyrgyzstan – About the ancient tradition of eagle hunting & where to see it – Journal of Nomads

Eagle Hunting – About the ancient tradition and where to visit the Eagle Hunters in Kyrgyzstan

In this photo-essay, we tell you all about Central Asia’s ancient tradition of falconry and where you can visit the Golden Eagle Hunters in Kyrgyzstan.


The Eagle hunters of Kyrgyzstan and where to see them - Journal of Nomads



A millennia-old tradition in Central Asia


Central Asia is the birthplace of the ancient tradition of eagle hunting. The nomads who roamed the Central Asian steppes began to tame these birds of prey thousands of years ago and this tradition is still passed on from generation to generation. It was fundamental for the acquisition of food and furs in the harsh winter months.


Nowadays, this form of hunting isn’t essential anymore in the survival of the people and the tradition of eagle hunting is now slowly disappearing. Kyrgyzstan is one of the few countries that still follow some traditions of the nomadic civilization and there are a handful of expert hunters left to this day who are determined to keep this ancient practice alive.


Eagle Hunters of Kyrgyzstan - Journal of Nomads



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Falconry is often associated with hawks and falcons. The Kyrgyz hunters consider these birds to be for amateurs. Instead, they train golden eagles. They call this eagle the bird of God and prefer to hunt with them as they are the most intelligent, powerful and lethal hunters on the planet and can kill hares, foxes, lynxes and even wolves!


The Golden Eagle Hunters of Kyrgyzstan – About the ancient tradition of eagle hunting & where to see it – Journal of Nomads



The golden eagle is called berkut in Kyrgyz and is named after the golden feathers at the back of its head. The hunters are called berkutchi and are seen as the guardians of the nomadic hunting traditions.


They’ve always been highly respected in the Kyrgyz society and the hunting was an indispensable part of the nomadic life as it provided enough food and fur for a whole village during the harsh winters. The hunters were wealthy but the whole training, keeping and feeding the birds was a costly affair!


Eagle Hunters in Kyrgyzstan - Journal of Nomads - Golden Eagle Hunting



How to train the Eagles


The art of eagle training was passed down from one generation to another, often from father to son. The training itself takes about 3 to 4 years before both eagle and hunter are ready for a successful hunt.


The berkutchi novice first needs to catch an eagle from the wild or take a fledgling from the nest. This is extremely dangerous and some novices are killed by eagles that return to the nest during the theft.


Once the berkutchi has an eaglet, it’s very important that he spends all his time with the bird so that it sees him as his master and starts depending on him. The eagle wears a leather hood during the day so it can’t see. The hunter will often talk and sing to the bird and it learns to listen only to his trainer’s voice. The berkutchi is also the only one who feeds the eagle, which creates a strong bond between them.


To train the eagle to hunt, the berkutchi uses a stuffed fox fur that is fastened to a rope. He also teaches the eagle to come back and fly down on his hand.


The Golden Eagle Hunters of Kyrgyzstan – About the ancient tradition of eagle hunting & where to see it – Journal of Nomads


The Golden Eagle Hunters of Kyrgyzstan – About the ancient tradition of eagle hunting & where to see it – Journal of Nomads



When the training is going well, the berkutchi takes his eagle out to hunt for real animals. He carries the bird on a heavy leather glove and leaves the hood over the bird’s eyes until he spots an animal. When he removes the hood, the eagle quickly sets off and attacks, killing his prey by breaking its neck. Trained to wait for its master, the eagle won’t eat until the berkutchi is at his side. As a reward, he gets to eat a portion of the kill. The berkutchi takes the rest of the meat and the fur back to his village.


The Golden Eagle Hunters of Kyrgyzstan – About the ancient tradition of eagle hunting & where to see it – Journal of Nomads



The Golden Eagle Hunters of Kyrgyzstan – About the ancient tradition of eagle hunting & where to see it – Journal of Nomads



The hunting season starts late October and lasts until the end of February. During the other months, the berkutchi has to spend daily at least 2 to 3 hours with his pet or the bird quickly becomes wild again.


The hunter and the eagle stay almost 20 years together and they build a very strong connection during that time. The eagle isn’t just the hunting partner and the livelihood of the berkutchi, the bird is his family. But after 20 years, he sets the eagle free in the wilderness.


Eagle Hunters of Kyrgyzstan - The Art of Eagle Hunting - Journal of Nomads



Eagle Hunters of Kyrgyzstan - The Art of Eagle Hunting - Journal of Nomads



I reckon that this must be quite tough for both and I also wonder if the eagle easily adapts to its freedom. Apparently, it does as this has been done for ages and it helped sustain the population of the free-living birds when eagle-hunting was still a widespread tradition in Central Asia.



Watch this video to see the eagle hunter in action

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Where to see Eagle Hunting in Kyrgyzstan


Although this remarkable tradition of the Kyrgyz nomadic culture is slowly dying, there are still a few hunters in the Issyk-Kul region who do their utmost best to keep the tradition going and pass on their skills to young disciples. They are part of the Salburun Federation.


Eagle Hunters of Kyrgyzstan - Eagle Hunter with his hunting dog - Journal of Nomads

An Eagle Hunter with his hunting dog



This federation often organizes festivals in the fall and winter. Some of the hunters work in partnership with local tour guides, who organize a small tour to Bokonbaevo, a small village near Issyk-Kul lake, where the berkutchi showcase the birds and their hunting skills to the visitors. For more information and to book a tour, check out the website of Destination South Shore.


Our friend Aleksei from Kyrgyz Nomad is also very happy to take you to the Eagle Hunters! He speaks fluent English and you can contact him on his website, on  Facebook or Instagram.  (This is not a sponsored post. We really enjoyed traveling with Aleksei and you will too! (Say hi from us when you contact him!)



TheGolden Eagle Hunters of Kyrgyzstan - Journal of Nomads



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Did you ever have the chance to witness some authentic traditions during your travels? Please tell us more about it in the comments below!


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19 thoughts on “Eagle Hunting – About the ancient tradition and where to visit the Eagle Hunters in Kyrgyzstan”

  1. I did some layman research and found about about this Kyrgyz eagle huntress whose story is fascinating. Did you ever hear anything about her when you were there?

    P.S. from my research (multiple sources) keeping an eagle for longer than 7-8 years is very much looked down apon by traditional eagle hunters. Are the eagle hunters there all keeping them for 20 years or just the ones you talked to? And did you get to speak with Sary-Ata?

    1. Hi Meghan, no, we unfortunately never met the Kyrgyz eagle huntress when we were there. Her story sounds indeed very interesting!

      We also read that the average time that Kazakh and Mongolian hunters keep their eagle is around 10 years. However, the hunters we spoke to, kept them for a longer time.
      We spoke with quite a lot of people but don’t remember the name Sary-Ata. Is this someone from the Salburuun Federation?

      1. If you read the Facebook post I provided a link at the end of the paragraph where his name is mentioned. Sary-Ata is considered the “master of masters” of Kyrgyz eagle hunting. He is very old now. His full name is in the link.

        Kazakh-Mongolian traditional eagle hunters traditionally keep their eagles for 6-7 years, but now the duration has crept up to 7-8 years. Longer than that is frowned apon by the traditional eagle hunters. Some less scrupulous ones keep them for 10 years +. And some really unscrupulous ones never release them back to the wild. I believe the longer duration of keeping the eagles must have evolved due to tourism and people wanting to pose with the eagles. You can read more on this by googling the 2016 research paper by Nolan Ebner with search term “heritage tourism” and “Altaic eagle hunting festivals”. Battulga and Sukhee are other researchers I would recommend you read.

  2. So cool! I just saw this guy at the World Nomad Games – such mad skills to train an eagle. I got to hold one and was quite scared – it still had a bloody beak from breakfast and was huge 😉

    1. Hey Annika, yeah, this guy is probably one of the most famous and skilled eagle hunters of Kyrgyzstan 🙂 Those animals are very heavy to hold! I can understand why you were a bit afraid, I wouldn’t want to get into a fight with these birds 😀

    1. That’s a very good question!! There are probably legends about how this happened but not sure if they still now the facts. Maybe one day a guy found a wounded eagle, took care of it and noticed he could train the bird to hunt with him?

  3. This is the kind of thing most people see on a screen. Did it feel surreal being so close to the eagle hunter and, err, the EAGLE?

    1. Yeah, it was actually very surreal. I remember watching documentaries about these hunters and wishing to see them in real life one day. That day came and it was unforgettable! Haha, the eagle is very big and yes, a bit scary too. Wouldn’t want to start a fight with this bird 😀

    1. It was always my dream to travel to Central Asia one day and learn more about the culture and daily life of the people here. We both feel blessed that we’re here now and can have experiences like these!

  4. What a great and informative post. It’s crazy how much training goes into it and that they spend 20 years together! I had no idea. This must have been an awesome experience to witness. I went to Mongolia last year and it has certainly inspired me to explore more of the silk road.

    1. Thank you Katie! The eagle and the hunter spend more time together than some married couples do 😉 😀
      It was amazing to witness this! Did you meet any eagle hunters in Mongolia? We’ll be going there in September, after the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan. That could be a great time to visit Central Asia if you’re interested. The Nomad Games is a very unique event that is held every other year and in which the people showcase some very traditional Central Asian sports! Maybe we’ll see you here 😉

      1. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see them this trip. They are located in the West of Mongolia and we did central and the gobi. I really hope to see them one day though. I already have travel plans through Eastern Europe this year but the year after I have to do a Silk road trip. What you guys are doing, hitchhiking through the world is incredible!

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