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Melanerpes chrysauchen

Golden-naped Woodpecker

  • Order: Piciformes
  • Family: Picidae
  • Monotypic

Authors: Alexander, Ming, and Carole S. Griffiths



Golden-naped Woodpecker is a medium sized woodpecker, with a long, almost pointed bill, curved on culmen and fairly broad across the nostrils. The crown is red, and the nape is yellow. A black line below the crown connects with the black upperparts; there also is a broad white stripe down the center of the back. The underparts are mostly olive buff.

Similar Species

Golden-naped Woodpecker is most similar to Black-cheeked Woodpecker (Melanerpes pucherani), although these two species are allopatric (Black-cheeked on the Caribbean slope of Costa Rica and Panama, and Golden-naped on the Pacific slope). Golden-naped Woodpecker is readily distinguished by the bright golden yellow nape; the nape of Black-cheeked Woodpecker is red. Golden-naped Woodpecker is also similar to the Beautiful Woodpecker (M. pulcher), which is sometimes considered a subspecies of Golden-naped Woodpecker; see Geographic Variation.


A frequent call of Golden-naped Woodpecker is a resonant churr with a peculiar, pleasant quality; this call often is given with a deep bow (Skutch 1969). This call becomes lower and drier when the bird is agitated (Skutch 1969). Another call is "a short, loud, rattling or laughing trill, 3-5 times in rapid succession on the same pitch" (Stiles and Skutch 1989).

Nestlings utter a "sharp, buzzy squeak, or a loud sizzling sound" (Skutch 1969).

Additional audio recordings of vocalizations of Golden-naped Woodpecker can be heard at Macaulay Library and at xeno-canto.

Nonvocal Sounds

Both sexes drum occasionally; the drum is described as "a short tatoo" (Skutch 1969).

Detailed Description (appearance)

The following description is based primarily on Wetmore (1968); see also Ridgway (1914):

Adult male: Forecrown and nape bright yellow; crown bright red. Side of head behind eye and sides of neck uniform deep, slightly glossy, black; the postocular region usually with a more or less distinct elongated patch or streak of white. Back, scapulars, wings and tail deep black, faintly glossed with bluish, with a broad white stripe down the center of the back. Rump and uppertail coverts white. Primaries brownish black, lightly tipped with white; primary coverts brownish black, the inner secondaries barred and tipped with white. Chin, sides of throat, and throat yellowish gray. Breast and sides deeper yellowish gray, washed or tinged with yellow. Flanks, underwing coverts and undertail coverts white, irregularly barred with black. Lower belly scarlet-red.

Adult female: Similar to male, but without any red on head; yellow of forecrown more extensive. Center of crown black.  

Immature: Beast mottled or faintly spotted with darker color.

Bare Parts

Iris: mouse brown

Bill: black, base of gonys dull white

Tarsi and toes: dull greenish gray, scutes bordered with white

Bare parts colors from Wetmore (1968).


Total length: 17-18 cm (Winkler et al. 1995), 18 cm (Stiles and Skutch 1989)

Linear measurements: 

male (n = 15; Ridgway 1914): wing length, mean 112.2 mm (range 108-116 mm); tail length, mean 55 mm (range 51-60.5 mm); culmen length, mean 25.7 mm (range 23.5-27.5 mm); tarsus length, mean 19.5 mm (range 19-20.5 mm).

male (n = 10; Wetmore 1968): wing length, mean 112.8 mm (range 109.7-115.7 mm); tail length, mean 55.7 mm (range 51.5-58.6 mm); culmen length (from base), mean 26.7 mm (range 25.1-28.3 mm); tarsus length, mean 20.9 mm (range 20.6-21.2 mm).

female (n = 11; Ridgway 1914): wing length, mean 110 mm (range 105-116 mm); tail length, mean 53.5 mm (range 48.5-60 mm); culmen length, mean 23.3 mm (range 21.5-25 mm); tarsus length, mean 18.8 mm (range 18-19.5 mm).

female (n = 10; Wetmore 1968): wing length, mean 111.4 mm (range 106.8-115.7 mm); tail length, mean 54.7 mm (range 50.0-59.4 mm); culmen length (from base), mean 25.3 mm (range 23.4-26.7 mm); tarsus length, mean 20.3 mm (range 19.6-21.2 mm).

Mass: male, mean 58.6 g ± 2.6 g (n = 4; Hartman 1961); female, mean 47.0 g ± 0.51 g (n = 5; Hartman 1961)


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Geographic Variation

Describing geographic variation for this species depends on whether the Beautiful Woodpecker (M. pulcher) is considered a separate species or a subspecies of M. chrysauchen (see Systematics below). M. pulcher differs from M. chrysauchen: (1) white on mantle is partly barred, (2) paler forehead patch extends to forecrown, (4) belly more extensively barred, and (5) red crown of male extends all the way to the nape. The females differ more; in chrysauchen, the crown is mostly yellowish with a narrow transverse black band, whereas in pulcher, the forehead is whitish, most of the crown in black, and the hindcrown is red, with yellowish only on the nape plumage (Winkler and Christie 2002).


Melanerpes is one of the genera in the subfamily Picinae, one of three subfamilies within the family Picidae (Webb and Moore 2005, American Ornithologists' Union 1998). Composition within the genus has changed over the years. Golden-naped Woodpecker was described in 1870 as Melanerpes chrysauchen (Salvin 1870), with a type locality of Bogaba [Chiriquí], Panama; subsequently chrysauchen was moved to the genus Tripsurus (Ridgway 1914) and later merged back into Melanerpes (Peters 1948).

Short (1982) considered chrysauchen to be a member of a superspecies that also included Melanerpes cruentatus (Yellow-tufted Woodpecker), Melanerpes flavifrons (Yellow-fronted Woodpecker), and Melanerpes pucherani (Black-cheeked Woodpecker). Most authors treat chrysauchen as monotypic (e.g, Ridgway 1914, Cory 1919, Wetmore 1968, Stiles and Skutch 1989, Remsen et al. 2012), but Short (1982) and Winkler and Christie (2002) include Melanerpes pulcher (Beautiful Woodpecker) as a subspecies of chrysauchen; see Geographic Variation.

Recommended Citation

Alexander, Ming, and Carole S. Griffiths. 2012. Golden-naped Woodpecker (Melanerpes chrysauchen), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: