The Greater Flameback is a large woodpecker, at 33 cm in length. It has an erect crest and a long neck. It always has unmarked golden-yellow to dark brown back and wings. The rump is red and the tail is black. The underparts are white with dark markings or light brown.
The adult male Greater Flameback always has a red crown. Females have a black crown spotted with white lighter dots. Young birds are like the female, but duller, with brown irides.