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How Long Can Ducks Stay Underwater?

Ducks can stay underwater between 10 to 60 seconds, depending on their type. Diving ducks can hold their breath longer than dabbling ducks.

Ducks are most often associated with water. It makes sense, as they are waterfowl.

But ducks don’t just spend time on the surface. They also dive into the water. They do this to gather food.

Ducks can either be dabbling or diving ducks, and the two different types dive in different ways.

In this article, we’ll talk about how ducks dive, why they dive, and how long they can stay underwater.

What Kind of Ducks Dive Underwater?

Diving ducks are types of ducks that dive into the water to get food. Some diving ducks have beak adaptations to aid in dredging, which means they can skim or grab things off the bottom of a body of water.

Ducks are split into two groups[1]:

  • Diving ducks
  • Dabbling ducks

As you can probably hear by their names, diving ducks dive into the water[2], while dabbling ducks “dabble” when they eat (tip upside down).

Since the two different types forage in different ways, they can also hold their breath for a different amount of time, but more on that later.

Common diving ducks include:

  • Bufflehead
  • Common  goldeneye
  • Hooded and Red-breasted Merganser
  • Greater and Lesser Scaup

Common dabbling ducks include:

  • Mallard
  • Muscovy
  • American black ducks
  • Blue-winged teals
duck catching food under water

How Long Can Ducks Stay Underwater?

Diving ducks can stay underwater for 30 to 60 seconds while dabbling ducks can stay underwater for 10 to 20 seconds.

All ducks can stay underwater for at least 10 seconds[2], though some can spend much longer underwater.

Different ducks can stay underwater for different amounts of types. This comes down to their species, as well as their type.

The average dive is about 12 seconds, but diving ducks can typically hold their breath for up to a minute.

Some species dive 5 to 60 feet (1.5 to 18 meters) or more to feed plants or mollusks on the bottom of ponds and lakes. 

Some species of diving ducks have been observed to remain underwater for as long as 90 seconds.

diving white duck

How Long Can Ducks Hold Their Breath?

The average duck can hold its breath for 25 seconds, but some ducks can hold their breath for up to a minute.

Dabbling ducks, who tip upside down to stick their head into the water, typically holds their breath for 10 to 15 seconds when doing so.

How Can Ducks Stay Underwater for So Long?

Ducks can say underwater for a long time because they can hold a large amount of oxygen in their body, and they’re efficient at distributing it.

Ducks are great at staying underwater for a long period of time. They can deal with cold, they can contain a lot of oxygen, and they’re efficient at distributing it. 

Some ducks also reduce how much oxygen they use when they dive underwater.

Cold Resistance

Ducks are very hardy. They can withstand very cold temperatures due to their feathers. Their outer feathers, contour feathers, help them withstand rain and wind, while their semiplume feathers help them conserve heat (these are feathers underneath the contour feathers).

ducks in iceberg

They can hold a lot of oxygen

Ducks can take in a lot of oxygen. They have specialized air sacs specifically to help them hold their breath. They can also use this air sac to keep them buoyant.

When they dive, they also distribute their oxygen efficiently, effectively lowering their oxygen use.[3]

Can a Duck Breathe Underwater?

No, ducks can’t breathe underwater. They don’t have gills like fish.

Ducks are expert divers for many reasons. Their well-adapted anatomy allows them to be perfectly at home in the water, where they are safe from most predators.

There is a common misconception that ducks can breathe underwater. This is not true! Ducks can stay underwater for a long time simply by holding their breath.

However, it does depend on how you define “breathe”. Ducks don’t breathe in new oxygen when underwater because they can’t extract oxygen from water, but they do make use of oxygen they’ve stored up.

Ducks have air sacs, which help them store more oxygen. This allows them to be underwater for longer.[4]

duck diving under water

Can a Duck Drown?

People are under the assumption that ducks can’t drown because they float, but this isn’t exactly true. Ducks can drown just like any other animal or person. It’s seen most often with baby ducks, who haven’t learned how to swim yet.

Adult ducks typically don’t drow though, unless they’re forced under the water. This is seen from time to time during mating.

Related: How do ducks float?

How Deep Can a Duck Dive?

Ducks can dive 5 to 60 feet (1.5 to 18 meters) underwater when they search for food.

The diving depth of ducks again depends on their type.

Dabbling ducks don’t dive very far down, as they just stick their head into the water. This is another story for diving ducks though.

As diving ducks dive underwater with their entire body, they can reach far down, as much as 60 feet, sometimes even more.

Ducks primarily feed on plant matter found in ponds and lakes. This is why they dive. Sometimes, they need to dive far down to find any food.

Mallard diving to catch a frog


Ducks can stay underwater for up to 10 to 60 seconds. They can do this due to natural adaptations such as their well-adjusted oxygen consumption, air sacs that hold oxygen, and very high cold resistance.

All ducks dive, but some ducks dive deeper than others. Dabbling ducks only put their heads into the water, while diving ducks submerge their entire body into the water.


Why Do Ducks Put Their Head Underwater?

Dabbling ducks put their head underwater to feed. When eating underwater, the duck’s head is submerged beneath the surface to catch food such as seeds, snails, and small aquatic creatures. After the duck has collected enough food, it propels itself back to the surface where it can breathe and swallow its meal.

Which Ducks Dive for Fish?

Diving ducks are the ones to dive. Diving ducks are known for their ability to dive beneath the water’s surface and remain under for an extended period. They can remain underwater for a minute while looking for food.

About Kaitlin Mullins

Birds are plenty, and they can be hard to keep track of. Thankfully, Katilin Mullins has taken charge of these. With plenty of free time spent bird watching, she’s a true expert on these intriguing animals.

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