Slightly smaller than the Grey Heron. The black-topped head and hind neck contrast with the white throat. In flight, the contrasting dark and pale underwing differentiates it from the Grey Heron, which has a uniformly grey underwing. Eye yellow most of the year, but becomes red when breeding.
Juvenile and immature have grey (not black) on the head and neck. Distinghuished from juvenile and immature Grey Heron by the dark legs and thighs, dark ear coverts and underwing pattern.
More often seen stalking through open grasslands than around water.
A loud 'aaaaark', and various hoarse cackles and bill clapping at the nest.