Grestakh (plural: grestakh) are a species of bird of prey bred with the same purpose as domesticated dogs and horses - that is, hunting and working. Husbandry of grestakh was first developed by the lizardfolk living in the antispireward region of Semuanya's Bog. They vary in size depending on breed, from 3 feet tall at the shoulder to over 6. It is easy to see in their physiology that at one point they originated from birds similar to hawks, though obviously much larger. The average lifespan of a grestakh is 25-30 years, though in the last 10 years of their life, they become especially prone to diseases of the bone and are often put down out of mercy or pragmatism.
There are several breeds of grestakh, as one would find in other creatures which have been domesticated. In general, however, grestakh are more intelligent than most non-magical beasts - they can understand instructions from their handlers and make unique decisions based on past experiences, as well as utilize very simple tools (ie, using a branch to extend their reach). The downside to this intelligence is that grestakh also tend to be stubborn and unforgiving of past abuse or betrayals. As such, transferring ownership of a grestakh is a delicate process to make sure they accept and respect their new master’s status.
The smallest breed of grestakh is prized as a hunter’s assistant, and is the only breed capable of flight, though only for short distances of 10 feet or less. They measure 3-3.5 feet at their shoulder and have feathers of a mottled brown color for camouflage within the forests of the bog. Their beaks and talons are sharp, but some hunters take to giving them metal or stone covers for their beaks that is even sharper.
In hunting, sliskh will dive at prey from a perch and occasionally retrieve it in their claws for their master if it has fallen in an inaccessible place. Hunters often train their sliskh in common ploys to trap prey, such as distracting, converging, or misleading. They are also often used for security, keeping a vigilant eye on anything they are charged with. They tend to vicious personalities and are widely considered inappropriate to have around children.
The moderate-sized breed is bred for its running speed and as such barely resembles a bird of prey at all. Its legs have developed to be as long as the rest of its body is tall, for a total height of approximately 5 feet at the shoulder. Its neck has also elongated for improved balance while running. Because they are meant to be visible to the herds they control, their feathers with often have patterns of varying colors - most commonly black and white, red through yellow, or blue through green. Ketsa also have wings that can nearly support flight, though they are generally used to support their running, providing small amounts of lift to propel them even further with each step. They are kept by shepherds in small flocks of 2 or 3 to control much larger herds of 50 or more.
Ketsa are especially social and playful and excel at coordinating their efforts with the other birds in their flock and their master, often lead by detailed hand signals which are much easier to determine with their sharp vision than shouted commands would be. It is common practice for shepherds to allow their ketsa to sleep in the family home and for children to play with them as family pets.
The largest breed is also the slowest and strongest. Measuring over 6 feet at the shoulder, shess are large in nearly every dimension, with thick necks, legs and chests. Their wings and tails are the only parts of them that are stunted, being primarily vestigial and unused. Shess feathers are generally dull colors of brown and grey, occasionally mottled with paler shades of the same color.
Most commonly, shess will be seen pulling carts or packs heavy with any manner of produce or merchandise. They are owned by farmers, merchants, and anyone else that needs to move something heavy across a significant distance. Shess are often considered to be dull-witted and sleepy; they are just as intelligent as their cousins but are simply not bothered by much. They'll often devise routines of comfort or convenience, and will self-adjust their loads if something is off-balance and likely to fall off. Though they aren't as treasured as pets as the ketsa are, they will still form very strong and loyal bonds to a family and often let the children of their masters ride on their backs.
Cross breeding among grestakh is possible but generally frowned upon as the random mixture of features often results in a litany of physiological ailments that come from incompatible size differences. Some breeders have tried to create new breeds but are stopped by the community as a whole for the unnecessary pain they cause the results of their experiments. Most often, cross breeds are accidental results of uncontrolled grestakh getting out of their enclosures and are destroyed before hatching if possible.
Outside the Bog
Largely because of issues of transfer of ownership of adult birds, grestakh are not commonly found outside of the lizardfolk tribes of the bog, though it is not unheard of. There are a few breeders who specialize in traveling around the Outlands with a clutch of eggs and their mother. The breeder will find a town or city that would most likely be well suited to the type of work of his breed (such traveling breeders will specialize in only one breed for ease of transport), and will take up lodging for several weeks.
While the eggs are unhatched, the mother will be used in demonstrations to generate interest, and after they are hatched, she will raise her chicks until they are old enough to be given to a new owner. During the hatchling period, the new owner (or a designated handler) is encouraged to spend as much time with their purchase to encourage familiarity and trust. Because of this intensive, and therefore expensive, introduction process, grestakh are generally only purchased by wealthy collectors or especially successful tradespeople.
There are also rare tales of lizardfolk families or individuals who have moved outside of the bog and taken their grestakh with them, but because of the difficulties in transporting the birds and in trying to accommodate them in a much more tightly constructed town or city built by humanoids, they are usually given to trusted families or friends who are already familiar to the bird and left behind.