Hunting for the golden eagle is an ancient tradition that dates back to the Mongol conquest of Central Asia in the 12th and 13th centuries, when an eagle and a horse cost the same price both gave prestige to their owner. Although the practice is gradually disappearing in the country, hunting of birds (especially eagles) is still practiced in certain regions of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.
Westerners tend to regard this as falconry, although hunting of falcons and hawks takes place, falconry is considered by those who hunt eagles as a hobby for children and dilettantes. The hunt takes place on a specially trained horse (called “bercut”). To allow a rider to carry an eagle, a special tool (“baldak”) is attached to the saddle to support the rider’s arm with the eagle or only the eagle. Sent to hunt foxes or other small animals, the eagle puts itself above and kills them. But often it is also capable of killing young wolves when they cannot pass over deep snow. Sometimes eagles hunt in pairs, just as they would in the wild.
A qualified pair, berkutchi (hunter) and bird, can usually catch 50 or 60 foxes, a dozen badgers, a pair of lynxes and 4 or 5 wolves in a normal 4-month season, which begins in late fall. Eagles rarely fail to catch their prey, which they kill quickly, usually by breaking the neck in its mighty claws.
Capturing, training and guarding eagles is a highly ritualized activity, of which Kazakhs and Kyrgyzs are experts. They even manage to force the bird to kill the prey while leaving a mark on its fur. Training eagles is time consuming (3-4 years) and should be done by one person with constant daily attention.
Most birds, with a life expectancy of 40 years, are captured young and placed in a cage with a perch that swings constantly while the berkutchi sings to get the bird used to the voice. (Later, the eagle is able to distinguish human voices and will only obey that of its master). The berkutchi feeds the bird itself.
When the eagle becomes large, the trainer shows him the skins and furs of the animals he must hunt so that he gets used to the smell and characteristics of the prey. All this is done with special orders.
Training continues with fox fur tied behind the galloping horse. Not all eagles can be trained as well, but those who do, they ride after intense loyalty. Never attached, they always return after killing their prey.