Rather small hawk that is often seen soaring on flat wings with tips swept upwards, suddenly dropping out of the sky like a rock. Dark morph adult is very dark brown with paler undersides on outer flight feathers. Dark juvenile similar but is distinctly spotted below, and lacks the terminal band on the wings. Light morph adult is clean white below and brown above with rusty patch on the side of its neck, a dark hood and a white throat.
Light morph juvenile is similar but lacks rusty patch. All birds have a faintly banded tail. Most similar to Broad-winged Hawk, which is never clean white below. Dark morph Broad-winged separable from dark morph Short-tailed Hawks by tail pattern and wing shape.