Adult plumage is very similar in appearance to former conspecific, the Arizona Woodpecker (Picoides arizonae). In comparison to Arizona Woodpecker, color of all brown areas darker (blackish brown), middle and lower back to rump white, barred with brown to blackish brown, and red band in males broader, extending anteriorly to the hindcrown. Vocalizations of the two species are largely similar. Arizona Woodpecker apparently switches from pine-oak (favoring oaks) in north to more habitually pine woodland in south; Strickland's are more or less strictly found in conifers (mostly pines).
In s.-central Mexico, Strickland's Woodpeckers, which are dark blackish brown and have white markings on back, overlap in distribution and habitat with Hairy Woodpecker. Hairy's unmarked white patch on back, unspotted white underparts, and larger bill distinguish it.
Characterized by dark, blackish-brown back and wings; distinct patch on back of white bars or mottling; breast and sides that are streaked rather than spotted; white outer rectrices, with narrow black bars; and bill shorter than those of arizonae group, averaging <16.24 mm on males and <14.69 mm on females. In addition, red nape of male generally is more extensive than that in Arizona Woodpecker, often extending onto hindcrown (but this is variable), and there is less difference in bill size between sexes (reduced sexual dimorphism).