It is 74 millimetres (2.9 in) long with a brown body. The male has a black abdomen with paired blue and yellow spots on each abdominal segment, and narrow stripes along the dorsal surface of the thorax. In the female, the abdomen is brown with yellow or sometimes green or blue spots. The wings of both sexes display a yellow costa (the major vein running along the leading edge of the wings). This species lacks the green thorax stripes of the southern hawker.
Female common hawkers will sometimes dive out of the sky and fake their death in order to avoid copulating with males.