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.
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.
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.
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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)
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)