Back and inner half of the wings are banded with narrow black-and-white lines. Outer half of wing is dark with a white crescent at the base of the primaries. Head and underparts are grayish white; the lower belly is reddish, though it is usually not obvious. Male has a wide red band from the bill over the crown to the nape. Female has red on the nape only. Voice is a loud, harsh “churrrrrr,” or a dry, nonmusical “chif-chif.” As with most other woodpeckers, the flight is undulating.
Similar species: The red-headed woodpecker cannot easily be confused with this species except in name. (Most woodpeckers have some amount of red on the head.) The adults of true red-headed woodpeckers have the entire head red, with pure white underparts, rump, and wing patches, and a black (not banded) back.