Ryan Jensen is used to helping stranded motorists. The former Marine who is also an artist often stops when he sees people in need. But a recent encounter involved a different kind of traveler.

Jensen was driving along a highway in Arcata, California, earlier this month when he saw a young woman who needed help.

"I was just driving along, looking for a place to paint and I see a girl parked on the side of the road with a bird sticking out of the front of her car and I decided to turn around and try to help her," Jensen tells MNN. "I had to see if the bird was OK."

Jensen pulled over and calmly assessed the situation, realizing that a red-tailed hawk had collided with Lynzee DeSantis's grill while she was driving down the road. The bird was alive but panicking.

Fortunately, Jensen has experience with birds and knew how to handle them.

"I rescued birds in the past — birds with fishing lines stuck in their throats, birds that have flown into windows. I have a soft spot for birds for sure," he says. As a child, he says, he drew birds obsessively and had many books on birds of prey. He once even found a hawk with a broken wing and took it in until it healed.

While DeSantis filmed the rescue, Jensen worked at freeing the hawk. He went to his car, hoping to find a towel he could use to cover the bird to calm it, but only found a hat. At one point, he used a paintbrush to gently pry the bird's head out from the car's grill. He was aware that the highly stressed bird could turn around and nail him with its sharp beak when freed, but he wasn't worried, he says.

"I knew the bird was under a lot of stress, so my main priority was to get the bird out. That took precedence at the time. I wasn't too concerned about my safety. I knew if I held it behind the wing and wrapped it in a towel, it couldn't turn around and bite me."

Although the nail-biting process only took about four minutes, it seems like an eternity on the video. But after the hawk was freed, the bird seemed stunned for a moment before flying away.

"I was just so happy that the birds' wings weren't damaged. Its wings, feet, neck were all fine so I was just super happy," Jensen says.

Ryan Jensen hawk painting Jensen was moved to create this hawk painting after he rescued the raptor. (Photo: Ryan Jensen Fine Art)

After the rescue, Jensen was inspired to paint a red-tailed hawk. The painting and his other work is available on his website and Facebook page, where he now has scores of new fans. The video of the rescue has been viewed millions of times with many commenters calling him a hero.

Jensen shrugs it off.

"I stop all the time when people are stuck on the side of the road. That's the kind of guy I am," he says. "I would like to see the world take care of its own a little bit better and help each other out."

Mary Jo DiLonardo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.

Good Samaritan saves hawk stuck in car grill
An artist and former Marine stops to rescue a raptor trapped in the grill of a car.