Diving Birds

Birds that dive underwater to forage for food are considered diving birds. These birds may dive underwater while swimming or fly directly into the water. These birds have a few adaptations to dive, like webbed feet, waterproof feathers, and streamlined bodies.

Different Types of Diving Birds

Diving birds are broadly classified into three categories based on the techniques displayed by the bird doing so. These include those who use their feet to push themselves forward, the birds who use their wings, and those who forage while plunging headfirst into the water from the air. Some examples:

Foot-propelled DiversWing-propelled DiversPlunge Divers
AnhingaCassin’s AukletCommon Kingfisher
Pelagic CormorantRhinoceros AukletOsprey
Great Crested GrebeTufted PuffinBrown Pelican
Red-throated LoonLong-tailed DuckBlack Skimmer
Common LoonEmperor PenguinAmerican Black Duck
Pied-billed GrebeBlack GuillemotBufflehead
Double-crested CormorantPigeon GuillemotCommon Goldeneye
Pacific LoonCommon MurreCape Gannet
Little GrebePeruvian Diving-petrelNorthern Gannet
Horned GrebeAmerican Dipper Brown Booby

How Do These Birds Dive?

Diving birds employ various techniques to forage underwater based on their physical features and related factors.

  • Foot-propelled Diving Birds will jump off ledges close to the water and propel themselves forward with their feet. In addition to this, their bodies tend to be streamlined for easy movement, while their feet are usually webbed. Their ancestors were usually flightless, however, most of their descendants can fly.
  • Wing-propelled Diving Birds rely on their wings rather than their feet to swim as they target potential prey underwater. Both flightless birds, like penguins, and birds that can fly, like dippers, have been seen using their wings to dive.
  • Plunge Diving Birds will make drastic dives from air to water, transitioning from flying to swimming. These birds have long beaks, strong neck muscles, and morphing wings that can extend or contract the wingspan of the birds mid-flight. Due to the mechanics involved and the higher risk of injury, these birds dive less frequently than the other two.


1. Which bird dives the deepest underwater?

With a record of being able to go as deep as 1800 feet at a speed of 15 k/ph, the Emperor Penguin is the deepest diving bird alive today.

2. How long can diving birds stay underwater?

The ability to hold their breath while diving below water varies from bird to bird. For instance, ducks can hold their breath for about a minute, while Emperor Penguins can do so for about half an hour.

3. Why do diving birds dive straight down to catch fish?

Due to the refraction caused by the water surface, tangentially targeting fish may lead to the diving bird mistaking its position. Diving straight down reduces the effect refraction would have, making the bird more likely to capture its prey successfully.

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