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Hawk Caught in Car's Grille Flies Free

January 27, 2010

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A young red-tailed hawk that was rescued by the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine was returned to the wild today as a small group of observers at the California Raptor Center watched he bird lift off, perch briefly in a nearby tree, and then fly away over agricultural fields.

The hawk's story is extraordinary even by veterinary school standards -- the driver, who struck the bird at a speed of about 55 miles per hour while driving in rural Yolo County, rushed to the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital with the hawk still stuck head-first in his car's front grille.


On Jan. 6, John Madigan, equine veterinarian and associate director of the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, was talking with a client in the hospital's Large Animal Clinic when a man rushed up to him asking for help. The man, Brian Hanley, said that he had hit a hawk while driving in rural Yolo County, a few miles away.

The hawk's head and talons were caught in the car's grille. The man had had the presence of mind to drive to the clinic on the UC Davis campus.

It was a good call. Though he works primarily with horses, Madigan is an authority on animal rescue and leads the school's Veterinary Emergency Response Team. He quickly gathered experts from the veterinary school's Companion Avian and Exotic Pet Service while two other veterinary faculty members went to the man's car.

Using a screwdriver on a pocket tool, the veterinarians pulled the grille off the car and gently extracted the hawk's head and talons from the grille. All were surprised to see that the hawk, identified as a juvenile red-tailed hawk, was alive and alert. A thorough exam by the avian-exotics team found that no bones had been broken during the hawk's accident, and its neurological function was good. The hawk did suffer a chest injury, which surgeons repaired the next day with several stitches.

After surgery, the bird recovered at the California Raptor Center, where it was fed and exercised during its recovery. Hospital veterinarians examined the bird several times to assess its condition during rehabilitation.

Michelle Hawkins, chief of the Companion Avian and Exotic Pets Service that oversaw the bird's treatment, said in an e-mail, "This remarkable situation really demonstrates the excellent teamwork we have here at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, the Veterinary Emergency Response Team, the Companion Avian and Exotic Pet Service and the school's California Raptor Center."


Hanley received a quick lesson in raptor handling when he was given the bird to release. Holding it carefully around the wings and feet, he lifted his hands and let go. The bird instantly rose and flew to the west.

The bird had been fit to fly for several days, but the raptor center manager, Bret Stedman, recommended waiting for stormy weather to pass before releasing it. Stedman said that because he fed the hawk the morning of its release, the bird would have a couple of days to fly free without immediately having to hunt for food.

You can "adopt a bird" at the  California Raptor Center 

More information about the school:

Companion Avian and Exotic Pets Service

Veterinary Emergency Response Team

William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital