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This small sunbird has a relatively short bill, a dark and short square ended tail with distinctive sexual dimorphism. Less than 10 cm long they have a down-curved bill with brush-tipped tubular tongues that aid in nectar feeding. The male is glossy metallic bluish to purplish black on the upper parts with the wings appearing dark brown. The breeding male also has underparts of the same purplish black, but non-breeding males may show a central streak of black on yellow underparts. (Birds in this eclipse plumage were once designated as a species, C. currucaria.) In the breeding plumage, the male can be confused with the syntopic Loten's sunbird which has a long bill and a distinctive broad maroon band on the breast. Breeding males will sometimes show their yellow pectoral tufts in displays. There is a patch of bright blue on the shoulder of breeding males. The maroon shine on the feathers of the collar around the neck is visible mainly during the breeding seasons. Females are olive brown above with a yellowish underside. There is a pale supercilium beyond the eye. There is a darkish eye stripe. The throat and breast are yellow, becoming pale towards the vent. The outer tail feathers are tipped in white both in the male and female. They are seen in pairs or small groups and aggregations may be found in gardens with suitable flowers. They feed mainly on nectar but also take fruits and insects. Groups of as many as 40 to 50 individuals have sometimes been noted.
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