This species reaches 68–82 cm (27–32 in) in length, with a 116–124 cm (46–49 in) wingspan. It is a medium-sized, long-legged, long-necked heron with a long pointed pinkish bill with a black tip. The legs and feet are bluish-black. The sexes are similar, but there are two colour morphs. The adult dark morph has a slate blue body and reddish head and neck with shaggy plumes. The adult white morph has completely white body plumage. Young birds have a brown body, head, and neck. During mating, the males plumage stands out in a ruff on its head, neck and back.