|Adult male (foreground, above) and female (background, below)|
Until recently, it was united with the golden-naped woodpecker (M. chrysauchen) of Central America as subspecies. But the different appearance and allopatric ranges argue in favor of recognizing the two as distinct species. According to "Birds of Northern South America" by Robin Restall the back is barred and the belly and breast are white, but that appears to be in error based on photos of the birds in Colombia.
The beautiful woodpecker is a colourful bird about 18 cm (7 in) long. It is similar in appearance to the black-cheeked woodpecker and the golden-naped woodpecker but their ranges do not overlap. The sexes are similar apart from the male having a yellow fore-crown while the fore-crown in the female is black. Both sexes have a red mid-crown and yellow nape, and a black mask surrounding the eyes and running to the nape. The lores, cheeks, chin, throat and breast are cream or pale yellow. The mantle and upper wings are mainly black, with some white barring of the flight feathers, and the back and rump are white, sometimes blotched with black. The tail is brown, the lower breast, belly and flanks are barred in black and white, and there is a red patch on mid-belly. The iris is black, the beak is greyish-black and the legs are grey.
Distribution and habitat
The beautiful woodpecker is endemic to the valley of the Magdalena River in Colombia, where it occurs at altitudes of up to 1,000 m (3,300 ft) or occasionally higher. It is present in both dry and humid forests and plantations, and sometimes in forest remnants and secondary growth.
The beautiful woodpecker is largely frugiverous, its diet including figs, bananas, fruits of the Cecropia tree and palm nuts, as well as insects and small invertebrates. It is able to catch flying insects on the wing.