The Eagle Festival in Bayan-Ölgii aimag, far western Mongolia, is a celebration of the heritage of the Kazakh eagle hunters who catch small animals like foxes and hares with specially trained golden eagles. There are actually two of those festivals, with essentially the same program, The largest is the Eagle Festival, held in early October 8 kilometres east of the town of Ölgii and the Altai Eagle Festival in Sagsai, 27 kilometres tot the west of Ölgii, in mid-September.
There are probably still about 360 Kazakh eagle hunters in the province and a good number of them come to the festival, on horseback and resplendent in traditional dress, the "bürkit", hunting eagle, perched on their glove; the eagle wears a "tomaga", a hood that prevents it getting nervous from all the strange sights: the birds have excellent eyesight. The birds are all female, apparently more aggressive as hunters than males. They register as participants and there is a parade with the hunters and their eagles, followed by a procession of camels, a wonderful sight. The participants are judged on appearance in traditional dress. and the games begin.
The eagles are on the top of a hill, about 100 metres away from their master on horseback, who calls them, waving a piece of meat. If all goes well, his "bürkit" comes swooping down, grabbing the meat. In another competition, the hunter drags a piece of fox or rabbit fur behind his horse and the eagle, released from the hill, must come down and catch it. Sometimes the hunter dismounts and runs with the fur if the bird doesn't cooperate.
There is a camel race and various horse games: in "Qyz quar" (kiss the girl), a boy tries to kiss a girl at full gallop, while she, more successfully, tries to beat him with a whip. There is "Kökpar", a Kazakh tug-of-war on horseback with the headless carcass of a goat, related to games like buzkashi and others in Central Asia and "Tenge Ilu", where a rider at full gallop must swoop down to pick up coins from the ground; but as in Mongolia coins are no longer used, scraps of material are used instead.