Discover 11 Types of Birds That Can Swim Underwater

Written by Niccoy Walker
Updated: May 14, 2023
© Sallye/
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Birds are most often found soaring through the air, perching on tree branches, or shuffling on the ground. But did you know that some birds can also dive and swim underwater? These birds typically have a diet rich in fish, mollusks, and other sea creatures. And they have adaptations that let them submerge themselves in oceans and freshwater bodies. Discover 11 types of birds that can swim underwater and learn about their aquatic adaptations.

1. Ducks

A King Eider Duck Swimming
King eiders are some of the deepest diving ducks. They can reach depths of 180 feet!

©Agami Photo Agency/

Regular ducks that you often see floating on ponds can swim underwater for short periods, but typically no more than a few feet. Diving ducks, however, can dive in deep water and stay submerged for at least a minute or more. Diving ducks include eiders, long-tails, and mergansers. They swim toward the bottom of the pond to feed on aquatic vegetation, small fish, and insects.

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2. Loons

Most Dangerous Birds
The loon has solid bones that allow it to stay submerged.

©Rejean Bedard/

Loons are expert underwater swimmers. These birds are equipped with special features that easily allow them to dive and stay submerged. They have solid bones that allow them to sink further in the water, and their webbed feet help propel them. Their distinctive red eyes can spot prey while submerged, and they have been known to swim up to 20 miles per hour! Loons can also hold their breath for up to five minutes.

3. Swans

A flock of tundra swans on a body of water
Swans can dive underwater for short periods by tipping their upper body over.


We often see swans floating gracefully on the water. They are excellent swimmers that can travel long distances. And they also dive underwater for food for short periods. They submerge their upper body, reaching their long necks to the bottom of shallow water to feed on aquatic plants. They do this while remaining afloat on the surface.

4. Cormorants

Cormorant neotropic perched on a branch in Denman Estate Park San Antonio
Cormorants use their large feet to paddle underwater.

©Raul Baena/

If you’ve ever been near the ocean and seen a black bird diving under the waves, it was likely a cormorant. These birds are known deep divers that can hold their breath for up to two minutes and swim to depths of over 100 feet. They use their large feet for paddling underwater, with a stride that allows them to glide effortlessly. Groups of cormorants will also herd fish for better hunting. 

5. Gannets

What are other types of birds that can swim underwater? Gannets!


While gannets can only hold their breath for up to 30 seconds, they can reach nearly 100 feet very quickly due to their high speeds. Gannets can swim up to 60 miles per hour! They use both their wings and webbed feet to glide and maneuver, often diving in large groups to hunt fish. Once they latch onto a meal, they drag it to the surface to consume.

6. American Dippers

Close up of one American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus) sitting on a wet log beside a river. Taken in Victoria, BC, Canada.
American dippers have stocky bodies and powerful wings.


The American dipper is well-suited for a life of diving and swimming. This bird features a stocky body and powerful wings that help it swim against strong currents. And their unique toes are adapted for finding food by turning over rocks and other debris. Not only do they dive and swim underwater, but they can also walk on the bottom of the streambed, probing for food with their toes.

7. Coots

American coot
The American coot can propel themselves using their large feet.


Coots have impressive feet that allow them to thrive in and on the water. When in shallow areas, they tip their head under to search for food. But in deep water, they can dive and propel themselves using their large feet. And when they are ready to lift off, they run across the water’s surface, flapping their wings as they ascend.

8. Penguins

An emperor penguin can hold its breath for up to 30 minutes.

©Christopher Michel / Flickr

When you think of the types of birds that can swim underwater, penguins may be the first that comes to mind. These expert divers and swimmers can move up to 25 miles per hour underwater, where they spend much of their time. Emperor penguins, specifically, can hold their breath for 30 minutes before coming to the surface. They can tolerate low levels of oxygen in their blood, giving them more time to find food.

9. Pelicans

Spot-billed pelican
Pelicans can dive from 100 feet above the surface.


You might not have realized that pelicans can also swim underwater! They are impressive divers, starting at heights of up to 100 feet before hitting the surface and stunning the fish below. Then they open their large mouths and scoop up anything nearby, storing it in their pouches before returning to the surface. They can hold their breath for 20 minutes and dive down to 60 feet.

10. Puffins

The puffin can dive to depths of 300 feet.

©DickDaniels / Creative Commons

Puffins can’t hold their breath as long as penguins, but they can dive to depths of 300 feet. These birds spend most of their lives at sea, swimming underwater for up to 30 seconds at a time. Although they can hold their breath for up to one minute. And they feature short wings that allow them “fly” underwater, beating their wings 400 times per minute.

11. Diving Petrels

diving petrel
Diving petrels spend most of their lives on the water.

©Traveller MG/

The diving petrel is a seabird that typically only comes ashore to breed. They are definitely more aquatic than aerial. These birds have heavy bodies and short wings, perfect for propelling through the water. They can fly, but only just above the surface, often traveling through waves. These impressive water birds can also dive over 200 feet.

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About the Author

Niccoy is a professional writer and content creator focusing on nature, wildlife, food, and travel. She graduated Kappa Beta Delta from Florida State College with a business degree before realizing writing was her true passion. She lives in the Triangle area and enjoys hiking, reading, and cooking!

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