Adults with head and upperparts black and white with a red crown. White band on the middle part of the wing and a white rump. Male has a red throat; female has a white throat. Underparts whitish with a yellow wash on the belly. Juvenile has a brownish head, neck, and throat. Voice a variety of squealing calls, often not loud: a descending “churr,” mews, and “weep-weep.” A irregular tap-tap, tap-tap-tap, tap, tap-tap-tap drumming pattern, like Morse Code, is characteristic.
Similar species: In Missouri, the two most common woodpeckers with which it might be confused are the downy and hairy woodpeckers. Though also rather small, they both have a black crown, solid white undersides, and small white spots on their wings instead of a broad white band.