17 Types of Birds That Swim Underwater

Birds are fascinating creatures that live in different parts of the world with different abilities. Some birds that live in aquatic habitat can swim underwater, and there are more than you might think!

In fact, there are over 16 species of birds that have been known to dive into the water and swim. Some can even stay submerged for extended periods of time!

Some people may be surprised to learn that even some aquatic birds, like ducks and pelicans, are able to submerge themselves in water.

In this blog post, we will explore the fascinating world of these aquatic avians. We will discuss their adaptations for swimming, as well as some fun facts about their behavior in the water.

1. Ducks

Ducks are perhaps the most well-known birds that can swim underwater. These birds have several adaptations that allow them to swim, including webbed feet and waterproof feathers.

Their webbed feet act as paddles, allowing them to propel themselves through the water.

In addition, ducks have a layer of insulation under their feathers that helps keep them warm in cold water. This insulation also allows them to stay submerged for longer periods of time than other birds.

Ducks are able to dive down into the water in search of food, and they can stay submerged for up to a minute at a time!

2. Pelicans

Pelicans are marine birds with a unique ability to swim underwater. They have hollow bones and trap air in their feathers, which makes them incredibly buoyant.

This allows them to dive deep into the water to catch fish, which is their primary diet.

Pelicans are expert swimmers and can often be seen swimming alongside dolphins and other sea creatures.

3. Gannets

Gannets are large birds that live in the ocean. They have long wings and can fly at high speeds, but they are also excellent swimmers.

Gannets often hunt for fish by diving into the water from great heights. They can reach depths of over 30 feet and stay submerged for up to a minute!

4. Cormorants

Cormorants are birds that live near water. They have long necks and webbed feet, which make them excellent swimmers. Cormorants often dive into the water in search of fish.

They are able to stay submerged for up to a minute at a time and can reach depths of over 100 feet!

5. Loons

Loons are aquatic birds that are noted for their striking appearance and haunting call. They spend most of their time on large freshwater lakes and only come ashore to nest.

These birds are strong swimmers and can dive up to 200 feet under the water in search of fish. 

So, how do loons swim underwater?

Their bodies are well-adapted for swimming, with long necks, legs set far back on their bodies, and webbed feet.

They also have waterproof feathers that trap a layer of air next to their skin, helping them to stay buoyant.

When they dive, they tuck their heads down and propel themselves with powerful strokes from their hind legs. 

6. Grebes

When you see a grebe swimming on the water, it looks like it’s just effortlessly gliding along. But when you see one diving underwater, it’s a whole different story!

These birds can dive down to depths of over 10 meters (30 feet), and they do it by frantically flapping their wings. This motion propels them through the water at speeds of up to 5 meters per second (11 mph).

But how do they keep from sinking like a stone? The answer lies in their feathers. Unlike other birds’ feathers, grebes’ feathers are waterproof. This means that they can trap a layer of air around their bodies, which keeps them buoyant. This also explains why you often see grebes preening their feathers – they need to keep that layer of air intact!

7. Shearwaters

Shearwaters swim underwater by changing the shape of their wings.

When they’re flying, their wings are shaped like those of a typical bird – with a pointed tip at the front and a rounded edge at the back.

But when they want to dive down into the water, they tuck their wings in close to their bodies and point the tips downwards. This transforms their wings into something more like flippers, which help them to move easily through the water.

They can dive down to depths of over 65m (213ft) without needing to come up for air, and can stay underwater for up to four minutes.

8. Kittiwakes

Although most gulls are adept at harvesting food from the water’s surface, only a few species are known to dive beneath the waves in pursuit of their prey.

Among these diving gulls is the kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla), a beautiful seabird with white plumage and gray wings.

So how do kittiwakes swim underwater? Kittiwakes have specially adapted feet that act more like fins than anything else.

These modified feet allow them to “fly” through the water with ease, chasing after small fish or other marine creatures.

Kittiwakes also have waterproof feathers that help keep them insulated and dry while swimming.

While diving, kittiwakes can reach depths of up to 15m (50ft). They are also able to stay submerged for extended periods of time, giving them a real advantage over their surface-feeding cousins.

9. Penguins

Penguins use their wings as flippers to help them swim underwater. Their feathers are thick and waterproof and help to keep them warm in the cold water.

Penguins can dive up to depths of nearly 500 meters and can stay underwater for more than an hour!

Penguins even have special adaptations that help them to swim faster, such as streamlined bodies and webbed feet.

Their wing muscles are very strong, allowing them to swim at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour. 

Penguins use a side-to-side motion to propel themselves through the water, rather than the up-and-down motion used by most other birds.

This series of quick movement generates a small vortex behind each penguin that helps them move through the water more efficiently.

10. Puffins

Puffins use their wings to swim underwater. Their wings are specially adapted to this purpose – they are very thin and flattened, which allows them to move easily through the water. They also have webbed feet, which help them paddle along.

Puffins generally stay close to the surface of the water when swimming, but they can dive down to depths of up to 60 feet if necessary.

11. Albatrosses

Albatrosses can plunge up to 62ft underwater to catch their prey. Their wings are specially adapted for diving, as they have a large surface area which helps them stay afloat, and they can hold their breath for up to six minutes.

They also have a layer of air sacs in their feathers which help keep them warm in the cold water.

Albatrosses usually dive for fish, squid, or crustaceans, but they will also eat seaweed and other vegetation if necessary. They use their sharp beaks to spear their prey, and then swallow it whole.

They are able to digest food while swimming underwater by swallowing seawater, which breaks down the food particles in their stomachs.

12. Coots

Coots are waterbirds that are closely related to moorhens. They’re typically found near freshwater lakes and marshes, and they’re adept swimmers.

When diving underwater, coots use their feet to maintain a hovering position. Their feet are adapted for swimming, with webbed toes that help them propel themselves through the water.

Coots also have inflated+solid sacs in their lower legs that help buoyancy.

When they want to dive, they tuck their head and feet down close to their body and extend their wings out straight behind them for extra propulsion.

This way, they can quickly reach depths of up to 15 feet!

13. Petrels

Petrels can dive beneath the surface of the water by using their wings to generate lift and propel themselves forward.

Their specially adapted wings have a fringe of tiny feathers along the trailing edge that work like a rudder to help them steer.

They also have a gland near their tail that excretes oil, which reduces turbulence and helps them move more smoothly through the water.

Petrels typically dive for food, but some species also use diving as a way to avoid predators. When a petrel spots a predator on the surface, it will quickly fly down into the depths of the ocean to escape.

14. Anhingas

As they dive, their long necks snake back and forth, which displaces water and creates a pocket of air behind them.

This pocket of air acts like an underwater sail, allowing them to stay submerged for extended periods of time.

To dive underwater, anhingas simply fold their wings against their body and tuck their heads in between their shoulders. By doing so, they minimize the amount of air that is displaced, which allows them to sink more quickly.

Once they reach the bottom of the river or lake, they simply unfold their wings and start swimming again.

However, unlike other diving birds, anhingas do not produce oil to waterproof its feathers, so they must air-dry their wings after swimming.

15. Dippers

Dippers are a type of waterbird that get their name from their habit of “dipping” their heads into the water to feed on aquatic insects.

But these birds don’t just dip their heads randomly- they have a special adaptation that allows them to see underwater!

Dippers have an extra eyelid membrane, called a nictitating membrane, that covers their eyes.

This clear membrane protects the eye from wreckage in fast-moving streams and also acts like a pair of goggles, allow the dipper to see clearly underwater.

When they want to take a quick peek underwater, dippers will close their regular eyelids and slide the nictitating membrane over their eyes for clear vision. 

16. Auks

When an auk notices a fish swimming beneath the water’s surface, it will dive down after it.

To catch the fish, the auk must zig-zag its way back up to reach it from underneath.

This customized diving pattern allows the auk to quickly snatch its prey before resurfacing for air.

Meanwhile, other birds such as cormorants and gannets will dive headfirst into the water to pursue their pray.

But these types of birds have webbed feet which help them zip through the water at rapid speeds.

The auk’s stubby wings and slow swimming pace make chasing fish from above impractical, so instead it has perfected the art of surprise attacks from below.

17. Kingfisher

Kingfishers are amazing little birds that have the ability to dive deeply underwater in search of fish. But how do they do it?

For starters, kingfishers have a very compact body shape that is built for aerodynamics and streamlined swimming.

They also have hollow bones, which help them to be lighter and more buoyant in the water.

Lastly, their plumage is waterproof and oily, which helps protect them from the cold water and keeps them sleek and fast.

When a kingfisher is ready to dive, it will tuck in its wings and plunge headfirst into the water. It can reach speeds of up to 10 meters per second when diving!

FAQ

Can swans dive underwater?

No, swans can’t dive underwater, but they can only submerge their heads. They do this by extending their necks and tucking their legs underneath their bodies.

What bird can dive the deepest?

Emperor penguins are the deepest-diving bird species. They have been recorded reaching depths of over 1,850 feet (564 meters). dives are generally shorter in duration, but emperor penguins can remain submerged for up to 22 minutes.

Which bird can hold its breath the longest?

Emperor penguins are capable of holding their breath for up to 20 minutes underwater. They achieve this by slowing their heart rate and restricting the flow of blood to their extremities.

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