It is 19-20 cm long. The male has a brown crown, white eyebrow and black mask. The back is grey-brown while the wings are dark with a white patch. The flanks are rufous and the rest of the underparts are whitish with fine barring. Females are similar but duller and browner with a brown mask and no white wing-patch. The species has harsh grating and chattering calls and will also mimic other birds.
It breeds in north-east China, Korea, Japan and far-eastern Russia (Ussuriland, Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands). Northern birds migrate south for the winter with a few reaching southern China. Vagrants have been recorded in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Vietnam. The isolated race sicarius is found only in the mountains of Gansu Province in west-central China.
Open habitats such as farmland and woodland edges are preferred. It also visits parks and gardens in urban areas. It sits on a prominent perch, waiting for prey to pass by. It feeds mainly on insects such as beetles and crickets but also preys on small vertebrates and crustaceans.