Can Birds Swim Underwater - Comprehensive Guide

Hammad Tariq

· 15 min read
Can Birds Swim Underwater

The question of whether birds can swim underwater piques curiosity about avian abilities beyond their airborne grace. While birds are renowned for their aerial feats and diverse adaptations to various environments, their aquatic skills are less understood.

Exploring the concept of birds swimming underwater unveils intriguing facets of avian behavior and physiology. Unlike aquatic animals, birds rely primarily on flight and terrestrial locomotion for survival. However, certain bird species have evolved unique adaptations enabling them to navigate underwater environments for feeding, escape, or recreation.

Understanding the mechanisms and limitations of avian swimming sheds light on the remarkable diversity of avian life and highlights the interconnectedness of ecosystems where birds play multifaceted roles. Let's delve deeper into this fascinating inquiry to unravel the mysteries of avian underwater exploration.

14 Types of Birds That Swim Underwater

African Penguin

The African Penguin, also known as the Black-footed Penguin, is a charismatic seabird native to the coastlines of southern Africa. With its distinctive black and white plumage and endearing waddle, the African Penguin captivates the hearts of many. These penguins are not only skilled swimmers but also enjoy exploring the underwater realm in search of food.

African Penguins boast streamlined bodies and flipper-like wings, enabling them to navigate through the water with remarkable agility. They propel themselves using powerful flippers, reaching speeds of up to 20 kilometers per hour (12 mph). Their diet primarily consists of small fish such as anchovies and sardines, which they catch while diving underwater.

Common Loon

The Common Loon, a captivating waterbird found in North America, is renowned for its haunting calls and remarkable underwater abilities. Sporting a sleek black head and neck, distinctive checkerboard-patterned back, and striking red eyes, the Common Loon is a familiar sight on freshwater lakes during the breeding season.

What sets the Common Loon apart is its exceptional diving prowess. These birds are built for underwater exploration, with solid bones that make them less buoyant and superbly adapted legs positioned far back on their bodies. This unique anatomy allows them to dive deep into lakes in search of fish, their primary diet.

Great Cormorant

The Great Cormorant, a sleek and elegant waterbird, graces water bodies worldwide with its distinctive appearance and exceptional diving skills. Dressed in glossy black plumage with a subtle white throat patch, these birds are often seen perched with outstretched wings, showcasing their impressive wingspan.

Known for their proficiency underwater, Great Cormorants are superb divers and fishers. Their slender bodies and long necks make them well-suited for swift underwater navigation. Cormorants utilize their webbed feet for effective swimming, gracefully propelling themselves beneath the water's surface in pursuit of prey.

Pied-billed Grebe

The Pied-billed Grebe, a charming and elusive waterbird, inhabits freshwater bodies across North and South America, enchanting observers with its subtle beauty and fascinating behaviors. With its small size and cryptic brown plumage, the Pied-billed Grebe often goes unnoticed as it gracefully glides across the water's surface.

What sets the Pied-billed Grebe apart is its unique diving technique. Unlike many other waterbirds, this grebe is primarily a submerged swimmer rather than a surface feeder. Its compact body and lobed toes propel it effortlessly through the water as it hunts for aquatic invertebrates, small fish, and crustaceans.

Common Merganser

The Common Merganser, a striking and skilled waterbird, graces lakes and rivers across North America with its distinctive appearance and remarkable fishing prowess. With its slender body, iridescent green head, and long, serrated bill, the Common Merganser stands out as a captivating inhabitant of freshwater habitats.

One of the most impressive features of the Common Merganser is its exceptional fishing abilities. Equipped with a slender bill and serrations that resemble teeth, these birds are adapted for catching fish. They dive underwater to pursue their aquatic prey with remarkable agility, showcasing their expertise in navigating beneath the water's surface.


The Razorbill, a charismatic seabird that calls the northern oceans home, is a master of both the sky and the sea. With its sleek black and white plumage and distinctive, sharp bill, the Razorbill stands out as an iconic resident of coastal cliffs and rocky shores.

One of the most notable features of the Razorbill is its striking appearance. With black upperparts contrasting against a white underbelly, these birds boast a distinctive look that aids in their identification. The razor-sharp bill, which gives them their name, is a versatile tool used for capturing fish underwater with precision.

Razorbills are superb divers, plunging into the ocean with streamlined efficiency to chase after their underwater prey. Their wings, adapted for swift flight, transform into powerful paddles beneath the waves. They primarily feed on small fish, making them key players in marine ecosystems.

Atlantic Puffin

The Atlantic Puffin, often referred to as the "clown of the sea," is a charming and distinctive seabird that brings joy to coastal landscapes with its vibrant appearance and comical antics. With its striking combination of a colorful beak, bright orange webbed feet, and a black and white plumage, the Atlantic Puffin stands out as a true seabird celebrity.

One of the most enchanting features of the Atlantic Puffin is its iconic beak. During the breeding season, this beak transforms into a spectrum of colors, ranging from bright orange to yellow and blue. This eye-catching feature plays a crucial role in attracting mates and is a symbol of the puffin's lively personality.

Atlantic Puffins are skilled fliers, effortlessly gliding through the air with rapid wingbeats. However, their true mastery lies in their underwater agility. Puffins use their wings to "fly" underwater, propelling themselves with remarkable speed and precision as they hunt for small fish. Their diet primarily consists of fish such as herring and sand eels.

Horned Grebe

The Horned Grebe, a small and charismatic waterbird, enchants observers with its striking breeding plumage and remarkable diving abilities. With its distinctive golden "horns" during the breeding season, the Horned Grebe adds a touch of elegance to northern lakes and ponds.

During the breeding season, the Horned Grebe undergoes a dazzling transformation. Its black head and neck become adorned with golden plumes, earning it the nickname "horned." These ornate feathers not only serve as a visual spectacle but also play a role in courtship displays, where pairs engage in synchronized dances on the water's surface.

In addition to its captivating appearance, the Horned Grebe is a skilled underwater navigator. With its lobed toes and streamlined body, it dives beneath the water's surface in pursuit of aquatic invertebrates and small fish. This bird's underwater agility is a testament to its adaptability to aquatic habitats.

Little Grebe

The Little Grebe, a petite and endearing waterbird, graces ponds and wetlands with its subtle charm and remarkable diving capabilities. Despite its small size, this bird is a master of underwater exploration, captivating onlookers with its unique behaviors.

Dressed in understated brown plumage, the Little Grebe might seem unassuming at first glance. However, its unassuming appearance hides a fascinating underwater acrobat. With its compact body, lobed toes, and a penchant for swift dives, the Little Grebe navigates through aquatic environments with remarkable agility.

One of the distinctive features of the Little Grebe is its habit of diving underwater to find food. These birds are skilled hunters, preying on small fish, insects, and aquatic invertebrates. Their dives are swift and efficient, allowing them to disappear beneath the water's surface and reappear with their catch.

Common Eider

The Common Eider, a majestic sea duck, graces northern coastlines with its distinctive appearance and fascinating nesting habits. With its bold black and white plumage, the Common Eider stands out against the rugged seascapes it calls home.

One of the remarkable features of the Common Eider is its intricate nesting behavior. These ducks create communal nesting colonies, often on offshore islands, where the females lay their eggs in nests lined with soft down feathers. The down, harvested by the females, provides insulation for the eggs and keeps the chicks warm after hatching.

Common Eiders are skilled divers, navigating the chilly waters of the northern seas with ease. Their diet consists primarily of mollusks, crustaceans, and sea urchins, which they dive underwater to retrieve. The male eiders are recognized for their striking appearance, with a contrasting black and white coloration and a distinctive wedge-shaped bill.

Adélie Penguin

The Adélie Penguin, a charismatic resident of the Antarctic, brings an endearing charm to the frozen landscapes it calls home. Recognizable by its striking black and white plumage and the distinct white ring surrounding its eyes, the Adélie Penguin is a symbol of resilience in the harshest of environments.

One of the notable features of Adélie Penguins is their adeptness in navigating icy waters. Despite their somewhat comical waddle on land, these penguins transform into agile swimmers, using their powerful flippers to propel themselves through the frigid Antarctic seas. Their diet consists mainly of krill, small fish, and squid, which they skillfully capture during their underwater forays.

Adélie Penguins are also renowned for their nesting behaviors. During the breeding season, they construct nests using stones, providing a raised platform to keep their eggs above the snow and ice. Their colonies, often bustling with activity and playful interactions, create a lively spectacle against the white expanse.

Harlequin Duck

The Harlequin Duck, a colorful and spirited waterfowl, graces fast-flowing rivers and coastal habitats with its vibrant plumage and distinctive appearance. With a unique blend of striking colors and intricate patterns, the Harlequin Duck stands out as a true gem in the avian world.

One of the most captivating aspects of the Harlequin Duck is its remarkable breeding plumage. Males don a bold combination of blue, chestnut, and white, creating a mesmerizing pattern that earns them the nickname "sea mouse." Females, while more understated, showcase a subtle beauty with their mottled brown and white feathers.

Harlequin Ducks are well-adapted to life in fast-moving streams. They are agile swimmers, navigating turbulent waters with ease to find their favorite prey, including insects and small fish. Their unique ability to dive beneath the water's surface, propelled by strong wings, adds to their charm.

Common Guillemot

The Common Guillemot, a sleek seabird of northern oceans, captivates onlookers with its distinctive appearance and remarkable cliff-side colonies. With its black and white plumage and an upright posture, the Common Guillemot is a prominent figure along coastal cliffs and rocky shores.

One of the standout features of the Common Guillemot is its striking appearance during the breeding season. Adults showcase a sleek black plumage with a distinctive white line running along their wings. Their upright stance on rocky ledges adds to the spectacle as they gather in large colonies, creating a bustling community.

Common Guillemots are skilled divers, plunging from great heights into the ocean to pursue their underwater prey, which primarily includes small fish and invertebrates. Their streamlined bodies and strong wings make them adept at navigating both the air and the sea.

Hooded Merganser

The Hooded Merganser, a dapper and distinctive waterfowl, graces North American waterways with its captivating appearance and charming behaviors. Known for its striking "hood" of feathers, the male Hooded Merganser is a true standout in the avian world.

The most remarkable feature of the Hooded Merganser is its unique crest, or "hood," which the male can raise or lower as a display of courtship or excitement. The striking black and white patterns on this crest add to the bird's allure, making it a delight to observe.

During the breeding season, Hooded Mergansers engage in elaborate courtship displays, involving head-bobbing, swimming in circles, and showcasing their impressive crests.


In summary, the avian world boasts a diverse array of birds with unique abilities and captivating traits. From the agile divers like the Hooded Merganser and the Harlequin Duck to the majestic seabirds like the Common Guillemot and the Adélie Penguin, each species contributes to the rich tapestry of our natural world.

Whether they soar through the skies, dive into the depths of the ocean, or waddle along icy shores, these birds inspire awe and appreciation. Conservation efforts play a crucial role in preserving their habitats and ensuring that future generations can continue to marvel at the beauty and diversity of avian life.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a bird survive underwater?

No, most birds cannot survive underwater. While some can swim briefly or dive for food, their feathers are not waterproof, and prolonged submersion would compromise their ability to fly and stay dry.

What kind of bird can fly underwater?

The Common Loon (Gavia immer) is a bird that can "fly" underwater. It is an excellent diver and uses its powerful legs to propel itself underwater in search of fish.

Which bird can see underwater?

No bird can see clearly underwater. While some, like the Osprey, can spot fish from the air and dive for them, their vision is adapted to seeing through air, not water.

About Hammad Tariq

Hammad Tariq, the passionate founder and author of HappiestBeaks, is a dedicated bird enthusiast, caretaker, and lover. With a deep-seated affection for avian companions, he channels his expertise into crafting insightful and informative blogs on bird care and behavior.