Bürtkitshi – The noble Kazakh art of hunting with eagles

By Tijana Radeska
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Bürtkitshi – The noble Kazakh art of hunting with eagles

Tijana Radeska
 
Bürtkitshi
Bürtkitshi
 
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Hunting with eagles is a traditional, noble art among the Kazakh and Kyrgyz people in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and it is also practiced by the diasporas that live in Mongolia and China. The Kazakh people nurture the hunting with golden eagles.

Although these people have the skills to train saker falcons, peregrine falcons, northern goshawks, and other birds, hunting with the gold eagle is a special art for them and of which they are mostly proud. There is a particular word for hunting with eagles in Kazakh – “bürtkitshi,” which is derivated from “bürkit” that means “golden eagle.”

I’ve just asked if we can have a hunting Eagle here at Outdoor Revival HQ but it’s not a very well received idea, something about me not being very responsible, and a few other things. So I think we’ll shelve that idea.  Seriously though, this is amazing, I’ve been hunting with Hawks and other birds but never an Eagle.

 

Khitans eagle hunters on horse, (Song Dynasty)

 

1870s illustration of burkut falconers in Kazakhstan

 

Sculpture representing a mounted Berkutchi. Photo credit

 

Golden Eagle. Photo credit

 

Ishenbek, Berkut and horse ride across the steppe. Photo credit

 

Travelers and photographers who have observed and documented the Kazakh hunters with eagles in Mongolia describe the art as magnificent and powerful. There are around 400 practicing falconers and around 60 hunters with eagles left, and there are fears that the tradition might be lost in time.

However, among the Kazakhs in Mongolia, it is common for the boys to start learning the skills of hunting with eagles when they turn 13.

Kazakh hunters in Ölgiy in Mongolia. Photo credit

 

Kazakh eagle hunter in Altai Tavan Bogd National Park, Mongolia. Photo credit

 

Kazakh eagle hunters in Olgii, Mongolia. Photo credit

The Eagles are used to hunt for hares and foxes in winter when the temperature drops to -40C. The hunters begin their journey on their horses, and when they spot a fox, the hunters aim into its direction and release an eagle to catch it.

If the eagle fails to kill the animal, the hunters release another eagle. But it is always unpredictable what the eagle is going to do. It might only be expected that it would hunt the animal. But it is always left to the free will of the eagle. The hunters can’t train the Eagles what to do.

Tamed eagles will not attack people and cattle. Photo credit

 

Close-up of a Golden Eagle. Photo credit

 

Golden Eagle. Photo credit

The Kazakhs don’t keep and bred the Eagles; they rather take them from nests when they are young. Female eagles are preferred as they grow to a larger size than the male ones. A large female eagle might weight up to seven kilos with 230cm of a wingspan.

 

The noblest moment of the whole hunting culture with Eagles is that they are released after a few years of service. When they are left in nature, the hunters leave a butchered sheep on the mountain as a farewell present.

Shohan, the Marlon Brando of Kazakh Eagle Hunters. Photo credit

 

A Kazakh eagle hunter with his ”bürkit”, hunting eagle, at the Altai Eagle Festival in Sagsai. Photo credit

 

Kazakh man in traditional costume with Golden Eagle. Astana. Photo credit

 

Berkutchi in Kyrgyzstan

 

13-year-old Ashol-Pan. Mongolia’s only female eagle hunter. Photo credit

The photographer and travel writer, Asher Svidensky had spent some time with these hunters in Mongolia and told the story of Ashol-Pan, the daughter of a celebrated eagle hunter and the only girl that learned the skills of the art. He described her hunting with an eagle as an amazing sight. She is the first female hunter in an activity that was male only for 2,000 years.

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