A huge, chicken-like crake. In breeding plumage, the male is mainly blackish in colour with brownish feather edgings to upperparts; red legs with orange bill with upstanding red shield. Otherwise resembles immature and smaller female which is variably barred brown, darker above with greenish legs and yellowish bill.
Sexes alike. White forehead and sides of head; dark slaty-grey above; silky white below; slaty-grey sides of breast and flanks; rufous on vent and under tail-coverts. Solitary or in small parties; often around village ponds and tanks, occasionally derelict patches in towns; jerks stumpy tail as it walks with long strides; climbs trees easily, especially when breeding.