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Can Birds Swim? (Answered and Explained)

can birds swim

Can Birds Swim? (Answered and Explained)

Some people love them, while others do not so much. Birds are a group of warm-blooded animals that have a very characteristic appearance.

Feathers mainly cover them; they have wings and don’t have teeth; instead, they have beaked jaws and lay hard-shell eggs.

There are around ten thousand living species registered, ranging from petit to massive. What many people seem to wonder is, can birds swim?

Yes, birds can swim, and they are called aquatic birds. Those birds live on or around water and can swim in water using various techniques and methods. Many water species can swim using wing-propulsion, foot-propulsion, or plunge-diving. Aquatic birds have adapted to the conditions they live in, and they have unique webbed feet and waterproof feathers that help them swim. 

Can All Birds Swim?

No, not all birds can swim. The species of birds that can swim have specific characteristics that help them swim. Those are either webbed feet that assist them in propelling through water or adapted short wings.

Webbed feet help birds propel through water using foot propulsion, and short wings help birds use wing propulsion for swimming.

Species of birds that are considered land birds and do not have these specific adaptations as aquatic birds, unfortunately, can’t swim.

Which Bird Is The Fastest Swimmer?

The gentoo penguin is the fastest underwater swimming bird reaching a maximum speed of about 22 mph (36 km/h). Even though they are only the third-largest penguin species, Gentoos have streamlined bodies and powerful flippers that make them the fastest diving bird species.

Gentoo penguins are characterized by their orange-red beak and extended white stripes across their head. They are also widely known for their diving abilities.

When chasing prey, Gentoo penguins can dive up to 655 feet and hold their breath for up to 7 minutes.

Related: Birds That Run

Birds That Can’t Swim

Birds that can’t swim are land birds. These birds don’t need to swim, so they never developed aquatic adaptations like water birds.

Birds that live on land don’t have webbed feet, so they can’t use them to swim through water; they also don’t have tiny adapted wings that could help them with propulsion.

And one of the vital specifics that help water birds swim comfortably is their waterproof feathers.

What Birds Swim Underwater?

Aquatic birds swim underwater. These are sometimes referred to as underwater fliers, and one of the most famous birds that can swim underwater is the penguin. But, also other sea birds like auks, guillemots, shearwaters, diving petrels, cormorants, and puffins can all swim underwater.

Their muscular wings give them the ability to fly through water as it is air. Terns, pelicans, and ducks can also swim underwater and dive when they need to catch food.

Can All Birds Float?

No, not all birds can float. Birds that do float have particular kinds of feathers that have interlocked barbs that trap air, allowing these birds to float, as well as a buoyant air sac that helps them float. The most known birds with the ability to float are ducks, geese, swans, loons, and grebes.

Land birds don’t have buoyant sacs or unique kinds of feathers. Therefore, they can’t float on water.

You May Also Like – What Animals Can’t Swim?

How Do Birds Swim?

Birds swim using their evolved body, webbed feet, and short, muscular arms/wings. The ones that can swim do it using three known methods: wing-propulsion, foot-propulsion, and plunge-diving.


Wing-propulsion is a swimming method that penguins use to swim, and they use their arms/wings to propel themselves through the water. This method is possible because birds that use it have shorter arms/wings that have been adapted to swimming in water.

This technique is considered to be the fastest method that birds use to swim and propel themselves.

You must have seen a penguin propel itself so fast and so smoothly into the water, and you know how effortlessly they can glide through the water. But, due to their short wings, penguins are not able to fly.

Another bird that uses this method is the auk, they are highly capable of swimming in the water, but they are very uncoordinated when they are on the land. Auks can fly, but they are a far more excellent swimmer and divers.


A bird needs to have webbed feet so that it can use foot propulsion for swimming. The most known birds that use this technique are grebes and loons.

They use their feet because they have enormous wings, so they are useless for wing propulsion.

They use their feet to kick behind them and glide through the water, and using this method; birds can travel great distances.

Some species even use a combination of foot-propulsion and wing-flapping to move through the water.


Plunge-diving is interesting because a bird needs to be a great flyer too to achieve a good plunge dive.

When a bird wants to dive into the water, it first needs to gain a decent altitude above the water and then execute a high-speed dive into the water.

Using this method, birds often try to catch their prey, and you can see this behavior mainly in the ocean.

Birds that use this way of catching prey are, for example, gannets, gulls, and boobies. These birds that use plunge-diving to catch prey only do it for that.

But to swim after that, they do use their webbed feet, and they use foot-propulsion.

Birds That Can Swim and Fly

We know that penguins are furious swimmers but, unfortunately, can’t fly. But other species are capable of doing both things, and those are:

  • Gannets

Gannets are large seabirds with a wingspan of 6.6 ft. (2m). They are usually found in the northern Atlantic.

When hunting fish, these highly adaptive birds can dive for 100 ft. (30m) hitting the water at speeds of 60 mph (100 km/h).

  • Ducks

Ducks are water-loving birds who spend most of their time floating in the water or searching for food. Their most common habitats are rivers and lakes, and they can be found all around the world.

Besides their proven swimming abilities, ducks are also speedy flyers. They can reach speeds of up to 60 mph (96 kp/h).

  • Terns

Related: What Animals Can Fly and Swim?

Terns are usually found near rivers and wetlands. Even though these seabirds are good swimmers, they usually only go into to water to bathe.

When in the air, terns are graceful flyers. They can fly at around 25 mph (40kp/h), making them one of the fastest migratory birds.

  • Pelicans

Pelicans are exceptional swimmers. They utilize their swimming abilities to catch their favorite food – fish.

But pelicans are not only good in the water; they are also proficient flyers covering hundreds of miles in one flight. Pelicans usually travel in groups, creating a V formation with their flying companions.

  • Cormorants

Cormorants are medium-sized aquatic birds that inhabit bays, lakes, rivers, and coasts. They are one of the deepest diving birds reaching amazing depths of 150ft. (45m).

Cormorants are adept flyers as well, and they can reach speeds of 35 mph (55 kp/h). However, they have relatively short wings that result in very high flight costs.

  • Loons

In order to take off, loons need a “runaway” of at least 100 feet. Their heavy bodies affect their take-off, but once they are in the air, they are super fast. Reaching the speeds of 75 mph (12 kp/h).

However, that extra weight comes in handy when it comes to diving. Loons can reach depths of 250 ft. (76 m) and stay underwater for about 5 minutes.


You now know that water birds can swim while others cannot. But you also learned a few other exciting bird facts and what different techniques birds use to swim and catch their prey. If someone asks you if birds can swim or not, you know what to answer.

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