Hunting with eagles
From Kazakhstan Encyclopedia
Hunting with eagles is a traditional form of falconry found throughout the Eurasian steppe, practiced by Kazakh and Kyrgyz people in contemporary Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as diasporas in Bayan-Ölgii, Mongolia, and Xinjiang, China. Though these Turkic people are most famous for hunting with golden eagles, they have been known to train northern goshawks, peregrine falcons, saker falcons, and more.
In Kazakh, both qusbegi and sayatshy refer to falconers in general. Qusbegi comes from the words qus ("bird") and bek ("lord"), thus literally translating as "lord of birds." In Old Turkic, kush begi was a title used for the khan's most respected advisors, reflecting the valued role of the court falconer. Sayatshy comes from the word sayat ("falconry") and the suffix -shy, used for professional titles in Turkic languages. The Kazakh word for falconers that hunt with eagles is bürtkitshi, from bürkit ("golden eagle"), while the word for those that use goshawks is qarshyghashy, from qarshygha ("goshawk").
In Kyrgyz, the general word for falconers is münüshkör. A falconer who specifically hunts with eagles is a bürkütchü, from bürküt ("golden eagle").
In 936-45 AD the Khitans, a nomadic people from Manchuria, conquered part of north China. In 960 AD China was conquered by the Song dynasty. From its beginnings, the Song dynasty was unable to completely control the Khitan who had already assimilated much of Chinese culture. Throughout its 300-year rule of China, the Song had to pay tribute to the Khitan to keep them from conquering additional Song territory. Despite the fact that the Khitans assimilated Chinese culture, they retained many nomadic traditions, including eagle hunting (see the unknown Chinese painting from Song dynasty).
The hai dong qing was an important breed of hunting eagle for Jurchen tribes. The Khitan extorted this kind of eagle from Jurchen but ended in revolt.
In 1207, the Kyrgyz nomads surrendered to Genghis Khan's son Jochi. Under Mongol rule, the Kyrgyz preserved their nomadic culture as well as eagle falconry tradition until the 1990s. Archaeologists trace back falconry in Central Asia to the first or second millennium BC. 
During the communist period in Kazakhstan, many Kazakhs fled for Mongolia, settling in Bayan-Ölgii Province and bringing with them their tradition of hunting with eagles. There are an estimated 250 eagle hunters in Bayan-Ölgii, which is located in the Altai Mountains of western Mongolian. Their falconry custom involves hunting with golden eagles on horseback, and they primarily hunt red foxes and corsac foxes. They use eagles to hunt foxes and hares during the cold winter months when it is easier to see the gold colored foxes against the snow. Each October, Kazakh eagle hunting customs are displayed at the annual Golden Eagle Festival. Although the Kazakh government has made efforts to lure the practitioners of these Kazakh traditions back to Kazakhstan, most Kazakhs have remained in Mongolia.
- Ethnic groups in Chinese history
- Goryeo-Khitan Wars
- Kazakh Steppe
- History of Mongolia
- Wolf hunting
- Article on eagle hunting in Kyrgyzstan with pictures
- Altai eagle hunting article
- Golden Eagle Festival
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