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The Crested hawk-eagle is a medium-large raptor at about 60–72 cm in length. It is a relatively slender forest eagle with some subspecies (especially limnaetus) being dimorphic giving the name of "Changeable".This, and also a complicated phylogeny further complicates precise identification.
Normally brown above; white below with barring on the undersides of the flight feathers and tail; black longitudinal streaks on throat and chocolate streaks on breast. Some subspecies have a crest of four feathers, but this is all but absent in others. Sexes alike; female larger, and young birds are often whiter-headed and less patterned.
The wings are long and parallel-sided, and are held flat in flight, which helps to distinguish this species from the similar Mountain Hawk Eagle. In overhead flight, comparatively rounded wings (upturned at tip), longish tail, white body (spotted with brown) and grey underside of wings (streaked and spotted) are leading pointers.
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