The vulgar kestling is relatively small compared to other prey, but larger than most birds. Adult males have a red back, with black spots, and the head is greyish and striped in black. Females have rather brown tones with spots throughout the body with ochre tones.
It prefers an open-field habitat and scrub. Vulgar kestels nest in cracks of rocks or buildings, tree hollows or nests of other birds.