The Kazakhs have a tradition of using falcons and eagles to hunt. Falcons are widely revered and falconry has long tradition in Kazakhstan. The Kazakhs have traditionally hunted with eight different kinds of bird of prey. A monument of independence in Almaty shows a hunter with a falcon on one arm and a winged snow leopard standing behind him. A traditional Kazakh saying goes: “A hawk on the hand—meat in the pot; a falcon on the hand—gladness in the heart.”

Falconry is a sport in which falcons are used by hunters to catch birds and small animals such as rabbits. Falconry is regarded as lifestyle rather than a hobby or sport. It takes a great deal of time unless you are rich enough to pay somebody to do the work for you. The birds have to be flown every day. Feeding, flying and care can several hours a day. A great deal of time is needed to train the birds, hunting with them and chasing after them. These days some falconers simple raise and care for their birds and don’t use them at all for hunting.

Falcons are prized for hunting because of their hunting instincts and speed. Some are caught in the wild. Others are bred. The sport of falconry essentially harnesses their instincts while benig loosely under the control of their human owners. The birds are allowed to fly free when hunting. What lures them back is a reward of food. Without the reward they might just fly off and never return.

The key of falcon hunting is training the falcons. After hunters captured wild falcons, they put all their energy into carefully feeding and taking care of them. They made leather head covers and blinders for them, and flew them and trained them every day. When fully trained falcons used their sharp claws to capture foxes, rabbits, various birds and small animals—even wolves and Mongolian gazelles. Kazakhs are most famous for hunting with golden eagles, but they have also been known to train northern goshawks, peregrine falcons, saker falcons, and others. The famed eagle hunters are found in western Mongolia, not China or Kazakhstan. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

Training and Raising Falcons the Kazakh Way

Before taming them, the Kazakhs fed good meat to the falcons, and let them become plump and strong as quickly as possible. But at this time, the fat on the falcon made it relatively weak; and the bird could not become strong until the fat was turned into muscle. To do this the hunters reduced the amount of fat of the falcons. They not only did not feed the birds, but also “washed their stomach.” Then they used hot water to bathe the falcon, and let it sweat all over. In the evening, the falcon was placed on a thick rope that was specially used to tame it. The falcon could not stand steadily, and the hunter used a stick to steadily beat a rope under it. The rope shook unceasingly, and the falcon could not sleep. This was called "torturing the falcon". When the falcon was so tired it couldn’t stand it anymore, it fell to the ground. At this time, the hunter used clean water to wash the falcon's head, and let it drink some tea or salted water. Under these conditions, the falcon became very thin only in a few days, and lose their spirit.~

At this time, the hunter began taming the falcon. He placed in special blinders on the head of the falcon, and did not let it see anything, and then fed it some rabbits, pigeons, little birds and other animals' meat. This helped to eliminate the bird’s fear and hostility to man. Then, the hunting training began. One falcon has sixteen sections of tail feathers. It takes off, brakes, glides, and captures animals through the coordination of these sixteen tail feather sections. At the time of training, these sixteen sections of feather were bound up one by one. The string around feathers could not be too tight or too loose: the falcon could not fly if it was too tight, and it would flee if it were too loose. ~

On the training ground, some rabbits and pigeons were tied with ropes. When everything was ready, the hunter would take the blinders off the falcon and let it fly to capture the animals and eat until had enough. In the next step of training, the hunter did not let the falcon eat the animals after it captured them, and did this repeatedly for many times, until finally letting the bird eat. After a certain time, several pieces of feather would be loosened, and then all of them would be loosened. Half a month later, the falcon would be completely tamed. When testing the result of taming, the hunter placed some meat in the house and induced the falcon to eat. If the falcon came to eat, he succeeded and could use the falcon to hunt. When feeding the falcon, the hunter only gave it lean meat and would not let it have enough to be full. This was because "the satisfied falcon would not capture bags". When not hunting, the falcon's blinders and feet blocks were kept on. This was called "not setting free the falcon until the hunting objectives emerge". ~

When hunting, the hunter carried the falcon with his left hand, whipped his horse with his right hand and galloped very fast, with hunting dogs running excitedly behind him, keeping a close watch on the objective animals. After choosing an appropriate place, the hunter quickly removed the falcon's blinders, and took off the feet block. Blowing a whistle, the hunter let the hungry and agitated falcon fly up like a sparrow, and quickly swoop down on its astonished prey. It didn’t matter whether the prey animal was flying in the sky or running on the ground, the sharp eyes and great strength of the agile falcon allowed it to capture their prey alive in a short moment. A good falcon could capture several hundred animals every year. No wonder, the Kazakhs say, “you can hardly exchange a good falcon with a good horse.” ~

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

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