Lucky hawk, briefly a hood ornament, now healed and free

A bird that escaped being road kill but got caught in a car grille was set free Wednesday by UC Davis veterinarians.

A car traveling near Covell Boulevard and County Road 95 on Jan. 6 collided with a low-flying young hawk. Instead of bouncing off the car or unluckily falling under its wheels, the red-tailed hawk's head and talons became lodged in the car's grille.

Not wanting to hurt the bird or injure his hands on razor-sharp talons, the motorist had the presence of mind to drive about three miles to the UC Davis Veterinary School.

There, the bird caught a little luck.

John Madigan, a horse veterinarian, was talking with a client in the vet school teaching hospital's large animal clinic when the motorist rushed up asking for help.

He's no expert on birds of prey or taking apart vehicles, but Madigan is an authority on animal rescue, leading the vet school's emergency response team. He gathered experts from the school's Companion Avian and Exotic Pet Service while two other vet medicine faculty members went to the man's car, according to a UC Davis press release.

Using a pocket tool's screwdriver, the vets removed the grille. Then, they gently pulled the hawk's head and talons from grille.

The bird was alert and suffered no broken bones. It had a breast injury that vets mended the next day.

The bird has been in a holding pattern for a few days while vets waited for good weather in which to release it.