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10 Birds That Swim Underwater (with Pictures)

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fulvous whistling duck in a pond_

While people usually imagine birds as fragile and gentle creatures typically living in forests or peaceful meadows, these fascinating creatures can be very wild and resourceful, especially when feeding. Their hunting habits and behavior can surprise most, as some species adapted to cruel water habitats and have impressive diving skills. Even if they seem calm and dainty, they know their way around nature when it comes to hunting.

Different birds have different behaviors when hunting and feeding. From swans that seamlessly glide on the water’s surface, dipping their heads from time to time to feed; to penguins that are fully submerged underwater, swimming by using their fins for hunting fish. In this article, we will count down 10 of the most known birds that have the skills to swim underwater when hunting, some of them even diving into deep waters in search of their next meal.hummingbird divider

The 10 Birds That Swim Underwater

1. Swans

mute swan
Image Credit: Couleur, Pixabay

These elegant birds spend most of their time peacefully drifting across the water. Most of their daily activities happen on the water, even feeding. The Swan will feed by either dipping its head underwater or turning its whole body upside down to reach deeper underwater. 

Natural habitat

These magnificent creatures rely primarily on calm areas near water. They are not uncommon to find near ponds, lakes, slow rivers, and wetlands. They will build mounds for nesting on the edges of shallow ponds, islands, and reed beds. They will search for undisturbed places close to water.

2. Pelican

american white pelican
Image Credit: Piqsels

These fascinating groups of birds have a unique behavior when hunting for food. Their diets mainly consist of fish, but sometimes even crabs, insects, frogs, and turtles. There are different ways these birds will hunt.

Some pelicans tend to hunt for fish in bigger groups. They will fly low, close to the water’s surface, drive fish to the shallow parts of the water, and then scoop them up. Other pelicans will fly above the water’s surface, and when they spot their prey, they will dive in to capture it. With the characteristic and distinctive pouches on their throats, they will scoop up the fish, drain the water and eat it.

Natural habitat

The fact that Pelicans love eating fish makes them inhabit most corners of the world. Usually, on inland bodies of water or coasts of lakes, rivers, and deltas, these birds can be seen anywhere with a warmer climate and near a body of water.

3. American Dipper

American Dipper
Image Credit: BlenderTimer, Pixabay

The American Dipper usually feeds on fish and some aquatic insects. They catch most of their food by being submerged deep underwater. They may search for insects in streamside rocks or floating on the water’s surface. The most common way of hunting is flying into the water and swimming to the bottom, where they will search the sand and under rocks for any larvae or some aquatic insect.

Natural habitat

You can find these birds near rushing and rocky streams, fast-flowing rivers, and narrow canyons. They enjoy cold, fresh, and clean water streams, so they will most commonly be seen near fast streams on high mountains.

4. Duck

a White Cheeked Pintail duck on river spreading its wings
Image Credit: TheOtherKev, Pixabay

Ducks are remarkable birds that you can find in almost all parts of the world. Their diets consist primarily of fish, insects, small animals, or plants. Some ducks just dabble for food when hunting for fish in the water. They will quickly flip their bodies upside down and search for any fish nearby to poke with their beak and their long necks. Other ducks tend to swim and dive very deep underwater to find their food.

Natural habitat

There is a wide variety of ducks out there, and the behavior and eating habits differ for most of them. Ducks are a waterfowl group of animals, so the only sure thing is that they love water and being close to any type of still or slow-streamed water. They inhabit lakes, ponds, streams, rivers, wetlands, bays, etc.

5. Cormorants

Image Credit: Alexas_Fotos, Pixabay

These large, dark brown and black birds usually live near any type of water. They typically hunt by swimming in on surfaces on waters, but sometimes they even dip their heads in to catch the fish living deeper underwater. The cormorant is primarily a fish eater but will hunt in the water for eels, snakes, crabs, shrimp, and others.

Natural habitat

These aquatic species love to be around any type of water. They are mostly associated with oceans, the open sea, rocky cliffs, and sometimes even freshwater. They usually choose to stay on coasts and edges of shallow water.

6. Loons

common loon bird
Image Credit: Rejean Bedard, Shutterstock

Although most people may confuse these birds with ducks because of their similarities in look, size, and behavior, loons belong to a different family and order of birds called the Gaviiformes. They can be recognized by their calls echoing through the lakes and forests.

Loons are primarily carnivores, which means that their diets consist mostly of meat. They feed on fish and crayfish, shrimps, and leeches found in the lakes. They feed by diving their heads underwater to catch the prey and often swallow them before diving out of the water.

Natural habitat

Depending on their breeding habits and rituals, the loon’s habitat often changes from one place to another. One thing is certain; these birds always choose locations close to large bodies of water. They prefer areas around freshwaters, near forested lakes, or bigger ponds.

7. Coots

American Coot
Image Credit: Piqsels

Other than coots’ natural feeding habits, like plants, leaves, seeds, algae, and grasses, these birds also love to eat insects, fish, tadpoles, worms, snails, etc. They spend most of their lives in water; they even start swimming soon after hatching.

They hunt for fish and other aquatic creatures in a couple of different ways. Sometimes they just dabble on the surface or turn upside down in shallow waters to catch prey. Often they might even dive underneath and swim propelled by their feet.

Natural habitat

Coots tend to choose areas on lower elevations but close to freshwaters such as lakes, ponds, and slower-streamed rivers. They can often be seen near salt marshes and coastal bays. When breeding, they will search for tall marsh habitats and shallow waters.

8. Geese

Canada geese by the lake
Image Credit: MOHANN, Pixabay

Geese are a unique type of bird that is very distinctive by their shining, dark, black feathers. These birds can be seen in many public places that humans surround, and most people enjoy feeding them. They get very picky when finding food, so they mainly feed on seeds, roots, leaves, stems, berries. They love to dive their heads underneath the water and graze on the aquatic plants and small vertebrates from time to time.

Natural habitat

Geese prefer open areas close to water. They spend most of their time around grassy freshwater because it provides them the best shelter from predators. You can find these birds around ponds, lakes, marshes, fields, and sometimes even public spaces like parks.

9. Penguin

Image Credit: lorilorilo, Pixabay

Penguins are the birds that spend most of their time near water or swimming in it. They are excellent swimmers and hunters underwater. The penguin’s diet usually consists of fish such as anchovies, sardines, and other smaller fish, krill, shrimps, crabs, and sometimes even squids. They can swim in shallow and deep waters when seeking prey because of their exceptional underwater eyesight. They usually dive deeper to find their desired choice, and they do it almost effortlessly.

Natural habitat

Penguins inhabit mostly regions near oceans and coasts. They live on islands or remote continental regions, undisturbed from other land predators. They can spend months living at sea. Different species have different habitats, so while some may enjoy tropical climates and islands, others choose the icy waters of Antarctica.

10. Gannets

Image Credit: bodsa, Pixabay

Gannets limit their dietary choices to mostly eating fish. They tend to jump from high altitudes and swim deep underwater using their fins and legs. Afterward, they either swallow the smaller fish before even diving above water, or if the prey is a bit larger, they bring it to the edge of the water and, with their sharp bill, poke at the fish and swallow it headfirst.

Natural habitat

Gannets prefer saltwater when foraging, though they may swim to even large rivers and other freshwater bodies when pursuing fish. They colonize and nest on sea cliffs, remaining close to the water so they can hunt.

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If you’ve read this article carefully, you should now possess more knowledge of these fascinating birds that can swim underwater. We’ve mentioned 10 of the most common birds that own this unique skill, which can be seen in their natural habitat, in waters worldwide.

Some of these birds love to spend time in public places accessible by people, so if you go for a walk to the park one day, you may run into a couple of geese or some swans by the lake. If you are lucky enough, you might even catch a glimpse of one of these lovely creatures hunting.

Featured Image Credit: Julian Popov, Shutterstock

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.