Scarce hawk of lowland tropical forest. Perches mainly in the canopy, at times giving a long, laughing call. In flight, the wingbeats are loose and floppy. When soaring the wings are held rather level. Adult is distinctive, with a soft gray head, dark eyes (no yellow in the face, unlike most hawks), and rather small grayish feet.
Immature has several plumage types, all with 2–3 broad, pale-gray tail bands. One type has a dark brown head and upperparts and whitish underparts with dark streaking; another has a white head and underparts with a small dark cap.