Inspired by an article I read recently about how songbirds are struggling to adapt to climate change, I set out to build and install a birdhouse. Scrap wood was hammered together and a perfect tree was painstakingly selected. (Okay, maybe not so painstakingly; there were only two viable trees to choose from.) Then I opened my wildlife guidebook and realized that it looked like I was building a perfect home for the fifth most venomous snake in the world.
Black mambas are native to Tanzania. I have never definitively seen one in real life, nor do I want to; the venom from a mamba bite can dispatch you to the next life in about fifteen minutes or so. They like to live in termite mounds, abandoned animal burrows, and hollowed-out trees.
And what is a birdhouse imitating, after all? A hollowed-out tree. I went back outside to size up the birdhouse; instead of cheeping baby birds I started having visions of gunmetal-grey snakes curled up in a cold mass inside.
But I remembered the ozone layer and the climate change and those poor birds who are showing up too late to the insect bounty every year, and no black mamba will stop me from trying to help these garden friends. So the acacia with its grassy, snake-friendly environs was scratched. The birdhouse will be installed on one of our tall fenceposts, in a very open and non-snake-friendly location.
I based the dimensions loosely on an American titmouse-sized birdhouse, but I have no idea what kind of Tanzanian birds might make it their home. I consulted my East African bird guidebook to help me guess. My grandmother gave it to me; it dates back to when my grandparents lived in Somalia for a few years. It has already proven indispensable for helping to identify the many different birds I see every day.
We will see what takes up residence in this new birdhouse. All I hope is that it will have feathers, not scales.