DUNKIRK – Western New York’s own prognosticating groundhog has made his prediction for the 50th year in a row.
Dunkirk Dave did not see his shadow this Groundhog Day, forecasting an earlier arrival of spring weather this year.
“We are going to have an early spring! It’s official here in Dunkirk, New York!” announced Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul, who was on hand for the local event Friday.
That was the news many of the people who attended the Groundhog Day festivities were hoping for. The weather for this year’s event was particularly cold, with strong winds whipping icy air off the nearby lake. Spring weather would be a welcome change for some.
“I think it’s a good thing that we’re going to have spring coming here soon. That’s wonderful!” said Dunkirk Mayor Wilfred Rosas, one of several local leaders who attended Friday’s event.
“It’s always good to hear we’re going to have an early spring,” said Chautauqua County Executive George Borrello. “It remains to be seen, but even six more weeks of winter is okay for us here in Western New York.”
A lot of people in our area put a lot of stock in what Dunkirk Dave says. He’s been right a lot of the time over the last 50 years.
“This is a huge point of pride for us. This is one of the longest running occasions, maybe second only to Pennsylvania, but I have to point out that our accuracy rate is much higher at 90 percent vs. about 35 percent for Punxsutawney Phil,” Lt. Gov. Hochul said.
This is actually the first time this particular groundhog has done the job, though. This year’s Dunkirk Dave is usually called Bullet, and he’s one of thousands of groundhogs licensed wildlife rehabilitator Bob Will has rescued over the years.
“There are a lot of good rehabbers out there. I’m just one of them,” Will told News 4.
Will has been rescuing groundhogs and small mammals since he was ten years old, when he found a groundhog that had been shot in a field. “I took it home and my parents allowed me to nurse it back to health,” Will recalled.
Since then, he’s become the go-to guy for groundhogs in need of help. “I picked groundhogs because they’re one of the most difficult ones to work with and I wanted a challenge and nobody else wanted them and I wanted to see if they were a good animal and I found out that they are very nice animals,” Will said. “I don’t recommend them as pets, though, because they are a wild animal.
The vast majority of them are re-released back into the wild when they are well again. A few have to be lifelong residents on Will’s property because they can’t be released.
Hoppy is one of the non-releasable groundhogs living out her days with Bob Will and his assistant Bill Verge. She’s 20 years old, which is basically 110 in people years, Will said. She gets hand-fed her favorite foods every day.
All of the rescued groundhogs get a different diet from day to day, to give them a wide variety.
“Everything that they like,” Will said, when asked what the groundhogs eat. “Like romaine lettuce, cantaloupe, corn, all kinds of sweet apples, beans, nuts, dandelion greens, kale.”
On the menu for Dunkirk Dave to lure him out of his house this Groundhog Day was his favorite sweet treat, pumpkin pie from Porter’s in Westfield. “Best pies in the world,” Will said.
Will held Bullet near the pumpkin pie Friday morning as everyone watched to see whether he’d see his shadow as Dunkirk Dave. Bullet shoved his face into the pie, proving that he can put the hog in groundhog.
Will is very careful to make sure Dunkirk Dave is never hurt making these yearly predictions, and Bullet was happily napping off his pumpkin pie feast within half an hour of his big moment in the spotlight.