SPRING HILL — The folks at Quality Exotic Birds know how to entice shoppers.
Step through the door at the shop in Seven Hills Plaza and come face to face with a pair of brilliantly colored macaws, unfettered, on a T-perch. The green-yellow-red birds gaze with intelligent interest at a newcomer.
"Macaws. Great companions. That's what everybody says," notes 15-year-old Anthony Carlino, the son of owners Joseph and Roseann Carlino. "They live the longest — 90 years."
Anthony spouts off the many varieties of parrots: blue and gold, scarlet, green wing, severe, harlequin, Catalina, military, Amazon and African grey. His dad, an exotic-bird breeder for 30 years, mates, hatches and nurtures them all, including cockatoos, at an off-the-beaten-track farm in Hernando County.
The ornate, smart birds range from $600 to $1,400, depending on their rarity.
Sizing up a couple of young shoppers as siblings, Anthony mentions the untethered pair.
"They're brother and sister," he says.
Donavin Bruno, 8, of Spring Hill gazes, seemingly mesmerized.
Five-year-old Kayla Bruno points to a spacious cage of cockatiels.
"I like the little ones with the yellow heads, because they're cute," she says.
Unknowingly, Kayla subscribes to Joseph Carlino's edict that each owner should buy a bird best suited to the individual. For a child, that means a smaller bird like the cockatiel or cockatoo, he said.
Customer Lori Dickens of Spring Hill, keeper of two macaws, agrees.
"I was told long ago (of macaws), you have to be prepared for a lifetime with a 3-year-old," Dickens said. "They're permanent 3-year-olds."
Indeed, the sibling macaws began to bicker, clacking beaks.
"Why are they doing that?" asked Kayla.
Mother Heather Bruno smiled.
"They fight like brother and sister," she said.
With a nod of approval from Anthony Carlino, Dickens chose two walnuts in shells from a countertop basket and offered them to the birds, which were instantly distracted from their arguing long enough to attack the nuts.
Dickens had come to the shop to buy a 5-pound bag of assorted treats — whole sunflower seeds, walnuts, almonds, dehydrated fruits and more, for $25 — for her macaws. She likes the freshness and purity of the shop's seed.
The store also sells healthy seed cakes, nutritious concoctions with ingredients that are selected to promote good feathering, and other feed mixes suited to particular bird varieties.
Because exotic birds are highly intelligent, they require brain stimulation to ward off boredom. Anthony gestured to a wall filled with avian toys ranging from $5 to $60.
"And they don't last long," he said.
Exotic birds entertain themselves and work off energy by destroying toys of wood, rope, whirligigs, bells, whistles and combinations thereof, he explained.
The shop offers bird enclosures of various sizes, from small cages to walk-in aviaries. For birds on the move, walking leashes and shorter shoulder tethers are available. For birds suffering injuries or feather loss because of pecking, even bird jackets are sold.
Joseph and Roseann Carlino offer bird grooming, including clipping of toenails, beaks and flight feathers. Arrangements can be made for DNA sexing of birds and disease testing.
The Carlinos' knowledge of exotic birds is encyclopedic. Joseph began his avian love affair at age 7 with a pair of parakeets. By 18, he was working at the famous former Parrot Jungle in Miami and breeding exotics. He had been selling birds privately and at flea markets until opening a store in Spring Hill about four years ago. The shop has been in the plaza at the southeast corner of Mariner Boulevard and Spring Hill Drive for a year and a half.
If an investment in an exotic bird seems pricey, young Anthony reminds customers that the birds have long lives — so long, he said, that many owners "will them to their kids."
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.