Yellow-tufted Woodpecker is a medium sized woodpecker with a typically robust bill. All populations are mostly black with a white rump, black and white barred flanks, a red belly, and a yellow eye ring. In the widespread yellow-tufted morph, there also is a yellow line extending from the eye along the sides of the head to the nape. In the northeastern portion of the range of the species, the sides of the head and the nape are black, lacking the yellow postocular streak and nape band. Male Yellow-tufted Woodpeckers have a red crown patch, which is lacking on females.
Yellow-tufted Woodpecker is distinctive, and unlikely to be confused: it is the only small, mostly black woodpecker within its range in northern and central South America east of the Andes. Several allopatric species, however, are similar to Yellow-tufted Woodpecker. Golden-naped Woodpecker (Melanerpes chrysauchen) also has black upperparts, a red crown, and a yellow nape, but lacks the yellow eyering of Yellow-tufted, has a pale (not black) breast, and has a white streak down the back. Black-cheeked Woodpecker (Melanerpes pucherani) has a yellow patch on the forecrown, lacks the yellow eyering, has a more extensive red crown, white barring on the black upperparts, has a pale (not black breast), and no red on belly.
The following description is based on Short (1982) and on Winkler et al. (1995); see also Geographic Variation:
Adult male: Upper back, most of head, upper breast, and wing coverts black, with a blue sheen; rectangular red patch on the crown. Broad white or pale yellow postocular stripe, connecting with a bright yellow nape band. Lower back, rump, and uppertail coverts white, often with a few black bars or (on the uppertail coverts) streaks. Rectrices black. Remiges brownish black, less glossy than the wing coverts. Throat and breast glossy black. Center of lower breast and belly red or orange red; flanks whitish or yellowish white with black bars. Undertail coverts white with black bars.
Adult female: Similar to male, but lacks red crown patch.
Immature: Similar to adults, but colors duller, with blacks more brown, red patches more orange, and head markings less obvious.
Apparently undescribed; probably follows the complex basic molt strategy.
Iris: lemon yellow to gold
Bare ocular skin: pale yellow
Tarsi and toes: gray
Bare parts color data from Short (1982).
Total length: 18-19 cm (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001b), 19 cm (Schulenberg et al. 2010), 20 cm (Hilty and Brown 1996, Hilty 2003)
Linear measurements (from Winkler et al. 1995; n = ?, sexes combined?):
wing length: range 106-121 mm
tail length: range 50-59 mm
bill length: range 21-26 mm
Mass: 48-64 g (n = ?, sexes combined?: Winkler et al. 1995)