Birds of the Mongol Empire
By Eugene N. Anderson
Ethnobiology Letters, Vol.7:1 (2016)
Abstract: The Mongol Empire, the largest contiguous empire the world has ever known, had, among other things, a goodly number of falconers, poultry raisers, birdcatchers, cooks, and other experts on various aspects of birding. We have records of this, largely in the Yinshan Zhengyao, the court nutrition manual of the Mongol empire in China (the Yuan Dynasty). It discusses in some detail 22 bird taxa, from swans to chickens. The Huihui Yaofang, a medical encyclopedia, lists ten taxa used medicinally. Marco Polo also made notes on Mongol bird use. There are a few other records. This allows us to draw conclusions about Mongol ornithology, which apparently was sophisticated and detailed.
Introduction: This paper introduces the ornithological world of the Mongol Empire. We have only a few sources for knowledge of Mongol Empire ethnoornithology, but fortunately they are revealing and interesting. They cover two areas: hunting, specifically falconry, and medicine. Birds were used both to hunt and as game. When caught, they often became food, and were then evaluated in terms of the nutritional science of the age.
Significantly, these two fields—hunting and medicine—were not only fully scientific by the 13th century, but were subjects of major scholarly research and writing. Presumably, farmers and country folk knew as much about wild and tame birds, including keeping fowl, but their knowledge is largely lost to us.