The Greater kestrel is, as one would expect from its name, the largest of the kestrels found in the southern African region, being some 37 cm in length. The sexes are alike in plumage, the females being slightly larger than the males. Overall, the plumage of the adults is pale rufous, the back, upper wings and sides are barred, streaked and spotted with black and the breast is streaked. The rump and the tail are grey, with black bars and the tail is tipped with white; the bill is blue-grey; the legs and feet are yellow and the eyes are pale yellow.
The Greater kestrel is fairly common in the semi-arid regions of southern Africa where it is found in open areas of grassland, savannah and semi desert, particularly those areas where the ground cover is low. It usually hunts from a perch such as a tree, telephone pole or exposed rock, feeding mainly on grasshoppers, termites and other invertebrates, but also taking small birds, mammals and reptiles. Like the other kestrels, the Greater kestrel is able to hover as it surveys the terrain below for possible prey. They are sometimes found at the site of a veld fire, catching insects and other small prey fleeing from the flames.
Greater kestrels are monogamous and will often nest in the old nests of crows or one of the other raptors, located on a telephone pole, in a tree or even on a man-made structure. The female lays a clutch of three or four eggs that hatch after an incubation period of approximately 23 days.
The species is usually silent but has a shrill, repeated call kwirr, kwirr.