10 Types of Birds That Swim Underwater (With Pictures)

There are approximately 18,000 species of birds in the world. Birds are known to occupy all spaces including air, land and even water. There are some birds that unluckily cannot fly, some that are restricted to a life on land or mostly restricted to the air. But in this article, we’ll be focusing on birds that have the ability to swim underwater. These birds are also known as waterbirds or aquatic birds and may be found in freshwater environments like lakes, rivers, and streams but also in the ocean, or even both! They have special adaptations that allow for them to seamlessly glide through the water.

Let’s take a quick look at some pictures of 10 birds that swim underwater and learn a little about each one.

10 Birds that Swim underwater

In this article, we’ll cover ten different types of birds that swim underwater which include:

  • Ducks
  • Swans
  • Cormorants
  • Loons
  • Pelicans
  • Penguins
  • Puffins
  • Coots
  • Grebes
  • Geese

1. Ducks

When you think of an aquatic bird, ducks are probably some of the first birds that come to mind. In fact, ducks spend most of their time in the water but they do occasionally come out of the water to do things like lay eggs, sleep, or waddle about.

Where ducks can be found: There are dozens of species of ducks found worldwide. Ducks can be found in the wild, but are also commonly kept as pets or livestock animals.

2. Swans

Swans, known for their regality and also their attitude are another group of waterbirds. They’re are actually in the same taxonomic family as ducks, making them distant cousins! Most of the time, Swans will only float on the surface but on occasion they may dive down. Oddly enough, the Queen of England owns all (unmarked) swans found in the United Kingdom.

Where swans can be found: There are only seven species of swans that occur in the wild on all continents besides Africa and Antartica. North America is home to three of the seven species of swans which include the Trumpeter Swan, the Tundra Swan and the Mute Swan.

3. Cormorants

If you have ever driven or walked along the coast and have seen a large, black or dark brown bird perched on a rock with its wings spread out- you have probably seen a Cormorant! Cormorants are incredible divers and move quickly through the water to feed on eels, fish, and sometimes even watersnakes.

Where Cormorants can be found: The Cormorant family or the Phalacrocoracidae family is a large family with up to 40 different species of Cormorants. Cormorants, in general, are Coastal birds that are found all around the world, excluding the central Pacific Islands.

4. Loons

A loon, while it is an insult for a crazy person, is also a type of diving bird. Loons share a similar body plan and may be similar in size to a duck, but they actually belong to their own taxonomic family. Loons are best known for their calls that bellow across quiet lakes in the early hours of the morning.

Where Loons can be found: There are five species of Loon that can be found in freshwater bodies throughout North America and much of Northern Eurasia. In the United States, Loons can be found in large numbers in New England Lakes.

5. Pelicans

Pelicans are an amazing group of waterbirds most famously known for their large pouches attached to their beaks. These throat pouches are used to help pelicans scoop up fish and then drain the water prior to swallowing their prey. Pelicans travel and often hunt in flocks or groups. Unfortunately for Pelicans, they are generally considered a nuisance by many recreational fishermen and have also been known to get entangled or hooked by fishing gear.

Where Pelicans can be found: There are eight species of Pelicans that can be found throughout the world excluding Antarctica. Pelicans prefer warm, coastal environments. In America, Pelicans are very common in Southern States like Florida, Louisiana, and Texas.

6. Penguins

Penguins are definitely one of the most famous birds that swim underwater. They effortlessly glide through the water in a way that makes them look like they are flying. These birds split their time on land and time in the sea almost equally. Penguins expertly chase down their marine prey which includes animals like fish, krill and squid.

Where Penguins can be found: All except one species of Penguin are found in the Southern Hemisphere. There is debate within the scientific community about how many species of Penguins there are, but the number is between 17-20 different species. Penguins are typically associated with Antarctica, but many species live in warmer, more temperate climates like South Africa and South America.

7. Puffins

Puffins are small, aquatic birds that are expert swimmers. They share similar colouration with Penguins, but are only distantly related. Unlike Penguins, Puffins can fly and swim. Puffins are social birds and live in large colonies, often living and sheltering in rock crevices and cliffs. While flying, Puffins can beat their wings an incredible 400 times per minute.

Where Puffins can be found: There are only three species of Puffins, all of which live in Coastal habitats in the Northern Hemisphere. Puffins can be found on the coasts of the North Atlantic Ocean and the coasts of the North Pacific Ocean. Because they live in cooler climates, only states like Maine and Alaska tend to be suitable for Puffins.

8. Coots

Coots are smaller, duck shaped waterbirds. There are several species of Coots, but all of them have very dark, black plumage which makes them easy to identify. Coots are typically found in freshwater habitats where they feed mostly on aquatic vegetation, but may also eat small vertebrates.

Where Coots can be found: There are ten different species of Coots that are found on every continent except for Antarctica. Six of the ten species of Coots are from Southern or Central America.

9. Grebes

Grebes are diving birds that are far more comfortable in water than on land. They can also fly, but only do so in short bursts, covering small distances. Unlike many other aquatic birds that lay their eggs on land, Grebes actually construct floating nests from reeds and other vegetation. Grebe hatchlings are able to swim immediately, which explains why these birds tend to prefer water over land!

Where Grebes can be found: Grebes tend to prefer freshwater environments, but are occasionally found in marine or ocean environments during migration or the winter season. There are 22 species of Grebes, with several species occurring on all continents excluding Antarctica.

10. Geese

Geese, close relatives to Ducks and Swans are aquatic birds that spend much of their time floating and swimming at the surface of ponds and lakes. They have long necks that they use to graze on aquatic vegetation by sticking their entire head underwater. Geese have also been known to dive on occasion in the face of a threat as a way to escape.

Where Geese can be found: Geese tend to stick to freshwater environments with plenty of vegetation to graze on. There are many species of Geese that are found all throughout the world, except for in Antarctica.


There are many species of birds that have mastered swimming and diving that can be broken up into different families and groups- many of which appear on this list! These animals prove just how truly dynamic and impressive our world’s birds can be.

About Jesse

Jesse enjoys bird watching and feeding birds in his backyard, learning about the different species, and sharing his knowledge and experiences.