Doli the Abyssinian Ground Hornbill

Written by Bria Stambaugh, Zookeeper, North Carolina Zoo 

Many people can relate to times throughout their lives that made a lasting impact. With any luck, these moments help shape our lives. I had many fond memories of visiting the zoo as a child and being enthralled with animals, which led me to my career as an animal caretaker, AKA: Zookeeper. I have been fortunate to work with some incredible animals throughout my zoo career, but meeting Miss Doli is one of my most memorable moments.  

More years ago than I would like to admit, I arrived at the North Carolina Zoo for my first day on the job.  

Joining the Aviary keeper team was an enormous excitement for me, and I was ready to hit the ground running…that is, until I crossed paths with a large-billed, wide-eyed, prehistoric-looking Abyssinian ground hornbill named “Doli.” She stopped me in my tracks. We were formally introduced, and she obliged my gawking and immediately approached me with a clump of grass in her bill. I quickly learned that this was her way of saying “Hello!”    

Pictured Above: Zookeeper Bria Stambaugh and Doli

Fast forward to the present day, and Doli has cemented her place as a top favorite among her caregivers throughout the years and makes a lasting impression for numerous guests that visit the North Carolina Zoo. At 33 years young, Doli fits nicely into her role as an Avian Animal Ambassador helping guests learn more about Abyssinian ground hornbills in the wild.  

Her natural curiosity and confident and calm demeanor make her a natural at being in the spotlight, and she thrives on attention from anyone she meets. Doli’s unique features and adaptations can be seen up close when she participates in programming and allows our guests to truly appreciate ground hornbills.   

Up close head photo of Doli the hornbill

Up close of Doli

Abyssinian ground hornbills can also be referred to as Northern ground hornbills and are one of only two species of ground hornbills in the world. While you may find Doli strutting her stuff here at the North Carolina Zoo, you won’t find these hornbills elsewhere locally. They are found across a wide area of north-central Africa in savannah areas, ideal for foraging a tasty treat. Snakes, lizards, turtles, and numerous insects and spiders prove to be regular staples of the hornbills’ diet. In fact, they are well adapted to handle venomous snakes with their thick scaled legs and large bills. Those legs are also important as they spend most of their time on the ground (hence the “ground” part of their name) and can walk over 6 miles in a single day in search of food. Northern ground hornbills are also named for their distinctive casque (a boney outgrowth on the top of their bills), which is much larger and prominent than their counterparts-the Southern ground hornbill.  

Doli the hornbill


Males and females are easy to distinguish from one another, as the males have a gorgeous blue and red throat patch, and females are solid blue.   

If you are lucky enough to catch a training session or program with Doli when you visit the North Carolina Zoo, you can truly appreciate all of her amazing adaptations. I can promise she will make a wonderful lasting impression for you, just as she has for me.