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Campephilus melanoleucos

Crimson-crested Woodpecker

  • Order: Piciformes
  • Family: Picidae
  • Polytypic 3 Subspecies

Authors: Rosenblatt, Connor



A large and widespread woodpecker, Crimson-crested Woodpecker is distinguised by a bright red crest and sides of the head. Both sexes show a black back and black wings, with a pale cinnamon buffy belly that is heavily barred with black streaks. Both sexes also exhibit a white stripe down each side of the upper back. Females have a broad white stripe across the sides of the head, and also have show a black forecrown.

Similar Species

The Crimson-crested Woodpecker shares many similarities with Lineated Woodpecker (Dryocopus lineatus), whose range overlaps broadly with that of Crimson-crested. Both sexes of Lineated Woodpecker have a narrow white stripe extending from the base of the bill across the sides of the head, and also have more extensive black and gray on the sides of the face. Crimson-crested Woodpecker also has a facial pattern very similar to that of Guayaquil Woodpecker (Campephilus gayaquilensis), although these two species are completely allopatric. The wings and back of Guayaquil Woodpecker also are dark brown, not black as in Crimson-crested. Crimson-crested Woodpecker also overlaps broadly with Red-necked Woodpecker (Campephilus rubricollis); however, the Red-necked Woodpecker has a deep tawny, unbarred barred belly, has a completely black back (lacking the white dorsal stripes of Crimson-crested), and the bases of its remiges are broadly rufous.


Although usually silent, the Crimson-crested Woodpecker  has a variety of calls. During the breeding season, its most frequent call, variously described as "a hollow, popping series of notes, sometimes delivered in a rapid chatter: tkep-tkep-tkep" (Lane, in Schulenberg et al. 2010) or as kwirr kwirr-ah, often is given (Kilham 1972). Pairs may also express closeness through calls such as wuk wuk, wrr wrr, and uh uh (Kilham 1972). 

The Crimson-crested Woodpecker also makes a variety of alarm calls. When disturbed at a nesting cavity,  a repeated ca-wa-rr-r call is given, while both males and females also deliver a shrill put put puttas call that may be repeated for minutes on end (Kilham 1972).

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

Nonvocal Sounds

As is typical of woodpeckers, Crimson-crested Woodpecker advertises mechanically, by drumming on trees. Crimson-crested Woodpecker drums by making an initially strong blow, followed by a vibrating temble of weaker notes that is described as DA-drrr (Kilhem 1972) or as 3-5 heavy strikes (Lane, in Schulenberg et al. 2010). These drumming sounds are made during courtship rituals, assertions of dominance, territorial disputes, and simply for keeping in contact with other individuals throughout the day.

Crimson-crested Woodpecker also produces a steady drumming sound when excavating a nest cavity. They tap on the rim of the nest cavity when excavating, but will also tap on the inside of the nest cavity at a time of nest relief. Although they are silent fliers, Crimson-crested Woodpeckers produce a heavy sound with their wings, even when flying short distances.

Detailed Description (appearance)

The following detailed description is based primarily on Wetmore (1968):

Adult male: Most of head, including a conspicuous crest, is bright red. Nasal tufts, the anterior lores, and a spot at the base of the mandible are white to pale yellow. Often there is a narrow black line (absent in some individuals) across the lower forecrown, just above the lores. There also is a spot on the auriculars; the upper portion of this spot is black, and the lower portion is white. Nape, back, and scapulars black, with two conspicuous white stripes that extends from either side of the neck down the upper back. Wing coverts black; wings, rump, uppertail coverts and rectrices brownish black; outer webs and tips of the primaries are edged with dull white, inner webs of primaries and secondaries pale yellow to yellowish white. Throat, foreneck, sides of neck, and upper breast black. Lower breast and belly pale cinnamon buff to tawny, broadly barred with black. Undertail coverts pale yellow to yellowish white

Adult female: Similar to male, but forecrown and anterior portion of the crest are black. A broad white stripe extends from the base of the bill across the sides of the head to the white stripe on the neck; on the sides of the head, this white stripe is bordered above by black. There also has a narrow white line behind the eye and on the side of the nape.

Juvenile: Juvenile male is similar to adult female, except the side of its head is red, and the black of the crown is reduced. Also, the red of the head is paler. Juvenile female is similar to the adult female, except that the red of the head is paler.

Bare Parts

Iris: white, honey yellow, bright yellow; bare skin around eye dusky. One report of sexual dimorphism in iris color: in Venezuela, 1 female with iris "red", 2 males with iris "yellow" (Willard et al. 1991).

Bill: dark gray, paler at base (malherbii) or ivory, usually with a grayish cast

Tarsi and toes: pale greenish slate, brownish gray, gray

Bare parts color data from Wetmore (1968), Short (1982), and Willard et al. (1991).


Total Length: 33-36 cm (Wetmore 1968), 33.5-35.5 cm (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001a), 34-35 cm (Schulenberg et al. 2010), 36 cm (Hilty and Brown 1986, Hilty 2003)

Linear measurements (from Wetmore 1968):


 Wing length  Tail length  Culmen from base  Tarsus length


(n = 15)

Mean: 184.0 mm

Range: 181-187 mm

Mean: 109.2 mm

Range: 100.0-117.2 mm

Mean: 43.5 mm

Range: 43.6-51.9 mm

Mean: 36.9 mm

Range:43.6-51.9 mm


(n = 14)

Mean: 184.0

Range: 181-188 mm

Mean: 109.0 mm

Range: 102.5-115.1 mm

Mean: 43.5 mm

Range: 41.2-47.8 mm

Mean: 36.1 mm

Range: 35.1-36.9 mm

Mass: male, mean 257 g (range 225-281 g, n = 9; Haverschmidt and Mees 1994); female, mean 255 g (range 230-281 g, n = 9; Haverschmidt and Mees 1994). Two males 240 g, 245 g, 1 female 240 g (Willard et al. 1991).


No information available.

Geographic Variation

Three subspecies recognized:

malherbii (Gray 1845)

Occurs in eastern Panama and northern Colombia

Similar to nominate melanoleucos, but differs by gray (not ivory) bill color, and "more extensive red around the eyes and more cinnamon-buff color of the underparts" (Short 1982). 

melanoleucos (Gmelin 1788); type locality Surinam

Occurs from eastern Colombia south to Bolivia, and east to central Brazil

cearae (Cory 1915); type locality Juá, near Iguatú, Ceará, Brazil

Occurs in northeastern Brazil.

Similar to melanoleucos, but smaller (about 11% smaller), with a proportinately shorter tail (Short 1982). Woodpeckers of the vast region extending from Bolivia, Paraguay and northern Argentina north to Mato Grosso and Goias are intermediate between melanoleucos and cearae; these birds sometimes are recognized as a fourth subspecies (e.g. Short 1975), but these birds "bear no distinctive features and are highly variable", and so do not merit recognition as a separate subspecies (Short 1972).


Campephilus melanoleucos forms a superspecies with Campephilus guatemalensis (Pale-billed Woodpecker) of Middle America and with Campephilus gayaquilensis (Guayaquil Woodpecker) of western Ecuador and northwestern Peru (Short 1975, 1982). 

Fleischer et al. (2006) reported the first molecular phylogeny for the genus Campephilus, based on mitochondrial DNA sequence data. This survey, which omitted two species, Campephilus robustus (Robust Woodpecker) and Campephilus magellanicus (Magellanic Woodpecker), places melanoleucos in a clade with gayaquilensis (sister to melanoleucos), guatimalensis, and with Campephilus pollens (Powerful Woodpecker; basal species).

Recommended Citation

Rosenblatt, Connor. 2012. Crimson-crested Woodpecker (Campephilus melanoleucos), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: