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Loten's sunbirds are small, only 12–13 cm long. The long bill separates this from the syntopic purple sunbird. The wings are browner and the maroon breast band is visible on the male under good lighting conditions. The males have pectoral tufts of yellow mixed with crimson that are used in displays. The adult male is mainly glossy purple with a grey-brown belly. The female has yellow-grey upperparts and yellowish underparts, but lacks the purple's faint supercilium. The call is distinctive buzzy zwick zwick and they are also very active often bobbing their head while foraging. They long down-curved bills and brush-tipped tubular tongues, are adaptations to their nectar feeding. The bill lengths vary across populations with the longest bills are found on the east of Peninsular India and in Sri Lanka. The song of the male is a long repeated wue-wue-wue... with the last notes accelerated. The song has been likened to the call of the cinereous tit. The males may sing from the tops of bare trees or telegraph wires.