The Eagle festival, or Golden Eagle festival, is an annual traditional festival held in Bayan-Ulgii aimag Mongolia. In the eagle festival, Kazakh eagle hunters (Burkitshi) celebrate their heritage and compete to catch small animals such as foxes and hares with specially trained golden eagles, showing off the skills both of the birds and their trainers.
Prizes are awarded for speed, agility and accuracy, as well as for the best traditional Kazakh dress, and more. Marco Polo documented Mongolians, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz using golden eagles for hunting when he passed through the region in the 13th century. Today, it appears that in Mongolia, only the small Kazakh community – numbering about 100,000 – continues the practice.
The Eagle Festival is held during the first weekend in October, run by the Mongolian Eagle Hunter's Association. Dark, rocky mountainous terrain forms the backdrop to the festivities which incorporate an opening ceremony, parade, cultural exhibitions, demonstrations and handcrafts in the centre of town of Ulgii followed by sporting activities and competitions 4 km out towards the mountains. Dressed in full eagle hunting regalia and mounted on groomed decorated horses, the entrants compete for the awards of Best Turned Out Eagle and Owner; Best Eagle at Hunting Prey and Best Eagle at Locating Its Owner from a Distance. Other sporting activities include horse racing, archery and the highly entertaining Bushkashi - goatskin tug of war on horseback.
A smaller festival, the Altai Kazakh Eagle Festival is also held each year in the nearby village of Sagsai in the last week of September. It follows much the same pattern as the larger Golden Eagle Festival, with about 40 eagle hunters participating.