Slender, medium-sized raptor, with dark grey head, breast, back and inner wing; a lighter grey on rest of wing and tail with black wing tips and narrow white rump. Black secondary bar and chestnut streaking on belly and underwing. Similar Pallid is pale grey with slim black wing-tips; larger Hen is grey with broad black wingtips. Females and immatures of all three are streaked brown and have owl-like faces and white rumps.
Inhabits open country including cultivation. Often in scattered groups. Roosts communally in long grass. Hunts birds, rodents and large insects.
Rather scarce winter visitor throughout peninsula. Passage migrant through Northwest. Rare in east. Also occurs in Europe, Africa, Central Asia and China.
Usually silent but alarm is a high-pitched chatter.