Diving Duck

Last updated: February 7, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Jim Beers/Shutterstock.com

Diving ducks can forage for food at depths of over 40 feet and stay underwater for up to one minute.


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Diving Duck Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Anseriformes
Family
Anatidae

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Diving Duck Conservation Status

Diving Duck Locations

Diving Duck Locations

Diving Duck Facts

Name Of Young
duckling
Group Behavior
  • Social
  • Flock
Fun Fact
Diving ducks can forage for food at depths of over 40 feet and stay underwater for up to one minute.
Biggest Threat
humans
Other Name(s)
bay ducks, sea ducks, scaups, pochards
Incubation Period
21-29 days average
Litter Size
5-15 eggs
Habitat
coasts, estuaries, tidal lagoons, and seas, lakes, ponds, wetlands
Predators
minks, raccoons, foxes, humans, predatory fish, snapping turtles, and larger birds like hawks, and owls
Lifestyle
  • Flock
  • Social
Common Name
diving duck
Origin
North America
Number Of Species
15
Nesting Location
near or on the water
Migratory
1

Diving Duck Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Grey
  • Red
  • Blue
  • Black
  • White
  • Green
  • Dark Brown
  • Multi-colored
  • Black-Brown
Skin Type
Feathers
Lifespan
5-22 years
Venomous
No
Aggression
Low

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Diving ducks are expert swimmers. These North American waterfowl can dive tens of feet into the water to find their food and hold their breaths for incredible amounts of time. Unlike their dabbling cousins, they are not so adept at walking on land, but they can hold their own in the water and in the skies.

5 Diving Duck Facts

  • Diving ducks usually dive for 10 to 30 seconds at a time. They can stay underwater for up to a minute, though.
  • Some of the deepest-diving ducks are mergansers and long-tailed ducks. They have been recorded at depths of 40 feet and beyond!
  • Diving ducks have legs and feet far behind their bodies. This makes for great swimming, but it’s awkward on land. They aren’t great walkers!
  • Diving ducks are excellent fliers as they are swimmers. Because of their narrow wingspan, though, they need a running headstart first. This helps them build momentum before being able to fly.
  • Diving Duck Summary

Scientific Name

Diving ducks are a specialized group of ducks that typically feed by diving into the water. This is opposed to dabbling ducks, who dabble around in shallow water to feed on insects and aquatic vegetation. These diving ducks belong to a large family of birds called Anatidae within a tribe called Aythyini in the subfamily Anatinae. They are also grouped in the subfamily Aythyinae as an alternative.

The four genera of the diving duck family are Rhodonessa, Marmaronetta, Aythya, and Netta, with the only Rhodonessa species believed to be extinct. There are about 14 to 16 species of diving ducks. The members of the Netta genus typically feed more like dabbling ducks and don’t like to dive.

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Diving ducks can be categorized as bay ducks or sea ducks depending on their preferred environment. Some of the ducks prefer freshwater while some live as marine life. They are also known as pochards or scaups. Some of the bay ducks include the canvasbacks and the redheads. The sea ducks include mergansers, scoters, buffleheads, and goldeneyes.

Appearance of Diving Ducks

Scaup

Scaups are one of several types of diving ducks.

©Brian E. Kushner/Shutterstock.com



Diving ducks are specially adapted to foraging under the water surface for food. Unlike dabbling ducks who are better suited for land feeding, the divers have large, webbed feet for paddling on water. Their legs and feet are spread out well and located far back on their body to drive them while underwater. This makes it easy for them to navigate water, but difficult for them to walk on land.

Diving ducks are great fliers, but their wings are relatively smaller and narrower than other ducks. This makes them have to run first to gain some momentum before flying, unlike other ducks that can soar from one place.

Diving ducks have some similar physical traits and some traits that are unique to their species and types. Most of them have brown and gray plumage for the females and contrasting dark and lighter colors for the males. As with other birds, the males have brighter plumage than the females for breeding purposes. However, the adult birds molt after the mating season. The males undergo the molting process first and their feathers change from being bright and attractive to duller colors.

Diving duck species are generally around similar sizes and range from 13 to 22 inches in length and weigh 1.5 to 4 pounds. They also have specialized adaptations depending on their mode of feeding. For example, canvasbacks grow up to 21 inches in length and weigh about 2.5 to 2.75 pounds. They also have thick necks and bills adapted to digging up tubers and rhizomes at the bottom of the water.

Evolution and History

Diving ducks belong to the family Anatidae and the subfamily Anatinae. They are placed within the tribe Aythyini in the subfamily. Alternatively, these ducks are placed in the subfamily Aythyinae. The sea ducks are also considered diving ducks, but are placed in a separate subfamily, Merginae. These ducks include long-tailed ducks, mergansers, scoters, and goldeneyes.

The earliest Anatidae fossils could possibly be wing fragments of a bird of genus Eonessa which was found in North America and dated back to the Eocene Epoch 56 to 33.9 million years ago.

Other fossils that have been unearthed belong to ducks from the genera Cygnopterus and Ramainvillia in France and Belgium from the early Oligocene Period 33.9 million to 23 million years ago.

Fossils from the species Paranyroca magna have been found in South Dakota and date back to the early Miocene 23 million to 16 million years ago.

Diving duck species have special adaptations to suit their modes of feeding. For example, scaups have bills that are adapted for catching moving prey as opposed to canvasback bills which are better suited for digging up tubers underwater.

Behavior

Diving ducks are gregarious, social animals. Some species congregate in flocks of 5 to 30 birds; such is the case with canvasbacks. With scaups, flocks of up to 500,000 birds have been sighted. They are also excellent fliers when their flying feathers have emerged. Otherwise, they stay hidden to avoid predators until they are ready to be airborne.

When they are ready to fly, they typically have to get a running start first because their narrow wings won’t allow them to hop into flight immediately unlike other types of ducks. They are fast fliers with canvasbacks soaring at speeds of up to 70 mph. Diving ducks aren’t as sure-footed on land as they are in the water. This is because of the placement of their legs and feet far back on their bodies.

Most diving ducks that come from the northernmost regions tend to migrate whereas the southern birds tend to be non-migratory, with a few exceptions. These birds migrate north from late February and back down south in the colder months.

How do these birds get so comfortable under the water? Diving birds lower their feathers to the point that it streamlines their bodies, making them more sinkable. Then they dive in head first and use their adapted webbed feet like broad paddles to propel them through the water.

Diving ducks usually dive for 10 to 30 seconds at a time, but they can stay underwater for up to a minute. Some of the deepest-diving species are the mergansers and the long-tailed ducks who have been recorded at depths of 40 feet and beyond!

Diet

Diving ducks have a varied diet. They are an omnivorous group with some of them eating plants and aquatic vegetation such as seeds, wild celery, duck potato, tubers, rhizomes, eelgrass, musk grass, pondweed, and widgeon grass. They also eat fish, crustaceans, insects, mollusks, and other vertebrates.

Depending on the particular species of diving duck, their primary diet can consist of different things. For example, canvasbacks and redheads are mostly herbivores and chow down on plants whereas the scaups are more carnivorous and better suited for hunting shrimp, clams, and mussels.

The different duck species have their own methods of feeding. Canvasbacks dive for food, uproot tubers with their wedge-like bills, and then resurface in the same place. Scaups swim through the water and eat what they can find, and then resurface about 50 feet from where they took off in the first place.

Habitat and Population

Diving ducks are mostly endemic to the Northern Hemisphere. They can usually be found in North American countries like the United States and Canada. However, they can still be found across the globe in other continents like Europe, Africa, and Asia. A species of diving duck that is native to New Zealand is called the New Zealand scaup or black teal.

Diving ducks are semi-aquatic animals which means they need to live near or on a body of water. Depending on the species, they are sometimes called bay ducks or sea ducks which is indicative of their preferred habitat. Sea ducks prefer marine life, and some types of diving ducks like the scaups turn to marine life during the winter.

In North America, diving ducks make their nests in coasts, seas, lakes, ponds, estuaries, tidal lagoons, and wetlands in and around New England, prairie regions, Alaska, and the Pacific Northwest, just to name a few locations. You can find a lot of these waterfowl in Canadian provinces like Manitoba, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, as well as the arctic wetlands.

Some diving ducks migrate southward during the winter to states like the coastal regions of Pennsylvania.
The total population of diving ducks is unknown since it is a large family that contains multiple species. The scaups have a population of around three to four million birds, but their population trend has been on the decline. The Madagascar pochard is a rare bird, thought to be extinct in the 1990s. Currently, it is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, but the good news is that its population is stable with only 20 to 49 mature individuals as of 2016.

Reproduction and Lifespan

Diving ducks start breeding from ages two to three years old unlike dabbling ducks to usually breed from year one.

The reproductive season for diving ducks ultimately begins in the winter as males or drakes compete for female (or hen) attention. This is the time that the males grow their brilliant plumage and display themselves to potential mates. Their mating rituals involve calling, strutting, preening, and drinking.

When the male and female duck come together to mate, they do so in the water. Diving ducks are usually monogamous during the breeding season up until the female lays and incubates her eggs for 21 to 29 days on average. After this point, the male leaves to join a group of other males.

Diving ducks lay their eggs near the water in crevices, tree holes, and in vegetation. Canvasbacks and redheads typically build nests on the water. Other species might prefer nesting a few feet away on land instead. Incubation begins once the final egg has been laid, and they lay anything from 5 to 15 eggs per clutch. The ducklings are born precocious. They can see, swim, and eat by themselves not long after hatching. A group of newly hatched ducklings is called a brood. This group has to wait for their flight feathers to grow, typically in eight to ten weeks, and then they can start flying.

The average lifespan of a duck is five to ten years. Diving ducks can live long lives if they are not killed during their early years.

The oldest known long-tailed duck was found in Alaska and was around 17 years old. The oldest canvasback on record was over 22 years old. Scaups are known to live for 18 years.

Diving Duck Predators and Threats

Diving ducks have a slew of predators such as minks, humans, raccoons, foxes, weasels, predatory fish, snapping turtles, and larger birds like hawks, and owls. Their eggs can also be snapped up by hungry raccoons, skunks, and crows.

Diving ducks are semi-aquatic animals and require water bodies to survive. Naturally, anything that would affect their habitat would affect them directly or indirectly as well, such as periods of drought and human interference. Drought reduces the duck population in their environment because it affects their source of food which inhibits their reproductive abilities.

In addition to drought, human interference and disasters like habitat loss due to encroachment as well as oil spillage deplete the ducks’ natural range, forcing them elsewhere. Environmental pollution of water bodies with chemicals and garbage also affects the diving ducks eventually by harming their food supply.

Diving ducks are hunted recreationally. However, a duck hunter would have to be licensed to participate in the sport as a way for the government to regulate the number of ducks that are hunted.

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Hi! I am a writer, actor, and filmmaker. Reading is my favorite hobby. Watching old movies and taking short naps are a close second and third. I have been writing since childhood, with a vast collection of handwritten books sealed away in a duffel bag somewhere in my room. I love fiction, especially fantasy and adventure. I recently won the James Currey Prize 2022, so now, naturally, I feel like I own words. When I was 11, I wanted to be a marine biologist because I love animals, particularly dogs, cats, and owls. I also enjoy potatoes and chocolate in all their glorious forms.

Diving Duck FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How many species of diving ducks are there?

Generally, diving ducks are said to have 14 to 16-member species with 15 being the considered number. Some of the species were thought to be extinct but have been rediscovered.

How long can diving ducks hold their breath underwater?

Diving ducks usually dive for 10 to 30 seconds at a time, but they can stay underwater for up to a minute.

 

Where are diving ducks found?

Diving ducks are mostly endemic to the Northern Hemisphere. They can usually be found in North American countries like the United States and Canada. However, they can still be found across the globe in other continents like Europe, Africa, and Asia.

How long do diving ducks live for?

Ducks generally live five to ten years, but diving ducks have been known to live for much longer depending on the species. Some have lived 18 to 22 years.

 

What eats diving ducks?

Predators of the diving ducks include humans, minks, raccoons, foxes, predatory fish, snapping turtles, and larger birds like hawks, and owls. Their eggs can also be snapped up by hungry raccoons, skunks, and crows.

What do diving ducks eat?

They are an omnivorous group with some of them eating plants and aquatic vegetation such as seeds, wild celery, duck potato, tubers, rhizomes, eelgrass, musk grass, pondweed, and widgeon grass. They also eat fish, crustaceans, insects, mollusks, and other vertebrates.

What Kingdom do diving ducks belong to?

Diving ducks belong to the kingdom, Animalia.

 

What phylum do diving ducks belong to?

Diving ducks belong to the phylum, Chordata.

What class do diving ducks belong to?

Diving ducks belong to the class Aves.

What order do diving ducks belong to?

Diving ducks belong to the order, Anseriformes.

 

 

What family do diving ducks belong to?

Diving ducks belong to the family, Anatidae.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. BioKids, Available here: http://www.biokids.umich.edu/critters/Aythya_affinis/#:~:text=Most%20lesser%20scaup%20die%20within,year%2C%20depending%20on%20the%20area.
  2. Ducks Unlimited, Available here: https://www.ducks.org/hunting/waterfowl-id/Diving
  3. Ducks Unlimited, Available here: https://www.ducks.org/conservation/waterfowl-research-science/the-big-four-diving-ducks
  4. Pennsylvania Game Commission, Available here: https://www.pgc.pa.gov/Education/WildlifeNotesIndex/Pages/Diving-Ducks.aspx
  5. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diving_duck

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