This bird reaches 23 centimetres (9.1 in) in length. Like all frogmouths, this species has a wide and hooked bill with slit-like nostrils and the large head with eyes facing forward to provide a wide field of binocular vision. Compared to others of its genus it has small wings, which are distinguished by the wing coverts ending in black spots tipped with white.The male is gray-brown with fine barring and a spotted crown. Some males are browner and look more similar to females. The female is more rufous or chestnut brown. Indian female birds have very fine black speckles on the crown but Sri Lankan females may lack or may have reduced markings.The bird also has short, stiff bristles in front of and surrounding the eyes. The Western Ghats population, ssp. roonwali (named after Mithan Lal roonwal), looks very slightly different. The male has a brownish-gray wing mirror and yellowish spots on the undersides, compared to gray or white in the nominate Sri Lankan form. The female has a bright reddish-brown wing mirror and the wings are unspotted below.
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