SPRING HILL Joe Carlino doesn't own a collection of colorful macaws only to look at them.
To him, they have as much personality as any other domestic pet. He reached into one of the many cages at his store and went for the bird's ankles.
"Hi, Phoenix," he said. "I play with your feet."
The green wing macaw bobbed her head, stuck her tongue out and playfully tried to bite his fingers.
A few minutes later, he got her to talk.
"Hi there," she said over again.
Why do people spend more than $1,000 for a bird that is usually kept in a cage and not permitted to fly? The short answer is that there are a lot of people like Carlino, who also breeds and sells them for a living.
"They are talking birds," he said, referring to various species of macaws. "You can have conversations with some of them. They make great pets."
Bird owners must understand how much attention their pets require, Carlino warned. If one regularly interacts with the animal, the happier it will be.
"The key thing is to develop a one-on-one relationship with the bird," he said. "If you have that, you'll have a wonderful pet."
In December, Carlino and his wife, Roseann, opened Quality Exotic Birds at 7349 Spring Hill Drive. In the front half of the store, customers can usually see canaries, African grays, cockatiels, macaw hybrids and other birds. On the shelves there are bird toys, perches, feed and other products for owners to use to keep their pets happy and occupied.
There are a variety of cages on display in the front and back, all of which are "bird safe" - which is to say they contain no paint or chemical products that could be harmful to the animal.
Smaller cages are best-suited for the canaries while the larger, wider cages are best for macaws and their exceptionally large wingspans.
Carlino does a lot more than sell products and offer grooming services. He also does more than invite potential bird owners to his store. He will often invite them to his house.
"If we're selling birds to a first-time owner, we'll open our home to them to show them how to hand feed them," he said. "We want it to be a good experience for the bird owner."
An American singing canary - which often is bought for children - usually cost about $70. Some macaws, like a green wing or a scarlet, can cost thousands.
A hyacinth macaw, which is all-blue, can cost almost $10,000.
"You're buying longevity, Carlino said. "That's why they are so expensive."
Macaws can live for up to 100 years, but the average is more like 50 years. In the past, exotic birds were captured in their own habitat in South America or Australia and shipped across the world.
That devastated the bird population in some regions. Furthermore, many of the animals died during the transport. The business still continues, but most local dealers, like the Carlinos, breed their own birds.
The Carlinos are from New York and moved to Spring Hill from New Port Richey in 2005. Quality Exotic Birds is the only local place where people can buy medium to large birds, they said.
Joe Carlino has a 32-year-old photo of him at the former Parrott Jungle in Miami where his fascination with birds manifested into an obsession. The 6-foot-5-inch Italian had at least four multi-colored flying parrots perched on his arms and shoulders. He was looking directly at the camera sporting a wide smile.
"That's where my dream came alive," he said.
He and his wife are among the newest members of the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Thursday, March 13.
The public are invited and refreshments will be served.
Reporter Tony Holt can be reached at 352-544-5283 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Biz at a glance:
Name of biz: Quality Exotic Birds
Owners: Joe and Roseann Carlino
What it is: Medium to large exotic bird retailer
Where it is: 7349 Spring Hill Drive
Get in touch: 352-835-4040