Sharpbills are small, stocky birds with a muted but distinctive plumage. The back, scapulars, and rump are olive green. The sides and flanks shade from dull white to greenish yellow. Tear-shape spots fade from buffy on the breast (except in the center of the abdomen, where they are absent) to smaller, darker, and denser on the head. The wings are blackish, with two yellowish bars. The tail is blackish, and the short, stout feet are a dull gray.
The sharpbill's head is marked by a red eye and the straight, gray bill that gives the genus its name. This instrument tapers from a broad base to an unusually pointed tip. Short rictal bristles encircle its conical base. A median crest ranges between races from bright crimson to orange. It is raised only when the bird is excited.
Adult female plumage is more muted, and the crest is less conspicuous. In general, though, write Stiles and Whitney, "the sexes are too similar in appearance to be safely distinguished
in the field under any but the most favorable circumstances." Immature sharpbills resemble mature females, but with an even smaller scarlet crown.
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