Variably colored hawk with a small head and long legs. Frequents tropical lowlands, especially marshes, but also forest, woodland patches. Usually seen perched, at times clambering and flapping while using its double-jointed legs to grope around for prey in tree crevices. Adult has long reddish legs; Central American and northern South American birds have red eyes, while southern South American birds have yellow eyes. Immature has white-grizzled face. Long tail has 2 broad white bands, obvious in flight. Wingbeats rather loose and floppy, and soars rather infrequently.