The Yellow-crowned woodpecker was originally described by the English ornithologist John Latham in 1801 under the binomial name Picus mahrattensis. The taxonomic committee of the British Ornithologists' Union have recommended that the genera Leiopicus and Dendrocoptes and are combined into a larger Dendropicos. Some taxonomists place this species in the genus Dendrocopos.
A medium-small (17.5 cm, 6.9 inches, 28-46 grams, 1–1.6 ounces), pale-headed, pied woodpecker. Upper-parts black, heavily spotted and barred white. Underparts dark, streaked dingy white with red belly patch. Irregular brown cheek and neck patches. Female has yellowish crown and nape. In male nape scarlet and fore-crown yellow.