The Black-eared Kite is a medium-sized bird of prey. Unlike others of the group, they are opportunistic hunters and are more likely to scavenge. They spend a lot of time soaring and gliding in thermals in search of food. Their angled wing and distinctive forked tail make them easy to identify.
The Black-eared Kite can be distinguished from the Red Kite by its slightly smaller size, less forked tail, visible in flight and generally dark plumage without any rufous. The upper plumage is brown but the head and neck tend to be paler. The patch behind the eye appears darker. The outer flight feathers are black and the feathers have dark cross bars and are mottled at the base. The lower parts of the body are pale brown, becoming lighter towards the chin. The body feathers have dark shafts giving it a streaked appearance. The cere and gape are yellow but the bill is black (unlike in the Yellow-billed Kite). The legs are yellow and the claws are black. They have a distinctive shrill whistle followed by a rapid whinnying call.