The long, flattened, spoon-shaped, grey-and-red bill is diagnostic. In flight it differs from the similarly sized white egrets by the way in which it holds its neck outstretched (not tucked into the shoulders). It feeds with a characteristic side-to-side sweeping motion of the bill.
Male has a longer bill than female. Juvenile and immature have a yellowish horn-coloured bill and dark-tipped flight feathers. Juvenile has a markedly shorter bill than adult.
Freshwater lakes, flood plains and estuaries.
A low 'kaark'. In breeding colonies emits various grunts and claps bill.