This relatively small eagle has a total length of 46 to 55 cm (18 to 22 in). It usually weighs 685 to 1,045 g (1 lb 8.2 oz to 2 lb 4.9 oz); but may exceed 1,262 g (2 lb 12.5 oz). The female is larger and heavier than the male. In one study, the wingspan of two individuals averaged 124 cm (49 in). Ayres's hawk-eagle has a long, barred tail and relatively narrow wings. The adult plumage is predominantly black/brown, with heavily streaked white underparts; in some individuals, the underparts are much paler. Adults typically have a pronounced white shoulder where the leading edge of the wing meets the body (the carpal joint). The immature is drab and paler.
Ayres' eagle is an uncommon resident of non-arid Sub-Saharan Africa, and a non-breeding summer migrant to the far south of its range (South Africa; southern Zimbabwe, Mozambique). It appears to prefer dense woodland and forest edges.
Although an uncommon bird throughout its range, it is classified as Least Concern (LC) by the IUCN, due to its large range and its numbers - while small - appearing stable at the present time.