A small, rather reptilian-looking woodpecker, the colour of tree bark. Basically grey and brown with dark eyestripes and dark stripe running from crown to rump. Underparts barred and throat warm buff. Tail long and barred, making it look rather shrikelike in flight. Bill short and pointed. Twists neck round and often raises crown feathers. Sexes alike.
Male: brownish-black above, spotted all over with white; golden-brown forehead and crown; small scarlet crest; pale fulvous below throat, streaked brown; scarlet patch in centre of abdomen distinctive. Female: lacks scarlet crest. Solitary or pairs; sometimes small bands of up to 6 birds; occasionally seen with mixed hunting parties; moves in jerks along tree stems and branches; hunts in typical woodpecker manner; rather confiding in some areas; birds keep in touch with faint creaking sounds.