penguins about to dive underwater

Can Birds Breathe Underwater?(All You Need To Know)

Birds cannot breathe underwater. But certain aquatic birds can hold off their breath for a long time underwater but they have to return to the surface after a set period to breathe and to optimize the oxygen levels in their body. 

Let’s take a deeper look at this topic…

Can Birds Survive Underwater?

There are certain varieties of aquatic birds that have got certain body adaptations in place which further allows them to survive underwater for a brief period.

Birds devoid of such adaptations will fail to survive underwater though. So the majority of the birds won’t be able to survive underwater for long as they won’t be able to hold off their breathing.

This is because birds just like other animals would require a constant supply of oxygen and also needs to exhale carbon dioxide to survive. Being underwater prevents them from breathing.

Do Birds Know How To swim?

The majority of the birds cannot swim as they won’t be able to survive underwater for long and will drown. In the course of evolution, their body structure has evolved in a way that forces them to avoid being underwater.

Just like humans, most birds will suffer from breathlessness underwater as they require a constant supply of oxygen for their survival.

However, there are aquatic birds like penguins, kingfishers, ducks, etc that have got certain body modifications in place that allow them to swim and remain underwater for prolonged periods without any issue.

So How Do Aquatic Birds Survive Just fine Underwater?

Birds that can survive long periods underwater have got certain body features in place that allows them to not suffer from breathing troubles underwater.

  • Some of these aquatic birds contain a greater volume of blood in their body than other birds and the excess amount of blood supply allows them to hold oxygen for a prolonged time in their body. Also, they have mechanisms in place that will make them breathe only when the carbon dioxide buildup in the body has reached a certain threshold.
  • Their body metabolism decreases enormously shortly after they dive underwater. The heart rate gets reduced by 50% and oxygen supply is temporarily reduced in certain places of the body like the skin, which can tolerate a shortage of oxygen for some time. The constant blood and oxygen supply is maintained in only those body parts that need them, to the vital organs of the body.
  • Aside from these, they also have certain physical body modifications in place that allow them to swim underwater in a better way. Some of these include having larger feet, greater body muscle mass, smaller-sized wings, etc.

Can Aquatics Birds that Swim Underwater Fly As Well?

Birds like penguins use the method of wing propulsion swimming to move around underwater at a super-fast speed by propelling their short but swift wings. However, because of having such small wings, they cannot fly.

Whereas on the other hand, birds like grebes can fly as well as swim underwater just fine. This is because unlike the penguins they use their webbed feet to swim around underwater. So as they are not dependent upon their wings for swimming they use them for flight.

So certain aquatic birds can both fly and swim underwater but there are also other birds, like the penguins which can only swim in water but cannot fly. It all depends upon the kind of body modifications they have in place for surviving underwater.

How Deep Can Birds Dive Down Through the Water?

Emperor penguins hold the record of making the deepest dive by a bird. It can make a dive of about 530 m and can stay underwater for about 15 to 20 minutes. Also as per the records, a thick-billed murre holds the milestone of the deepest underwater dive by a flying bird. It went about 610 feet (210 m) underwater at a speed of 2 m per second.

Which bird lives underwater?

Birds do not primarily live underwater. Certain aquatic birds go in search of hunting underwater. Some examples of such birds include:

  • Penguins
  • Auk
  • Guillemots
  • Shearwaters
  • Diving birds like ducks, gannets, loons, etc.

Which Bird Stays Underwater the Longest?

Emperor Penguins are the birds that are known to stay underwater the longest. It can stay underwater for about 15 to 20 minutes. However, the same modifications that allow these penguins to stay underwater so long, prevent them from flying.


Can penguins breathe underwater?

Penguins have impressive body adaptations in place that make sure that they dont suffer from oxygen deprivation underwater. However they cannot breathe underwater, they just hold off their breath for a long time allowing them to hunt for food underwater. Once they run out of breath, they again have to come back onto the surface to fill up their lungs.

How long can a duck stay underwater?

A duck underwater dive can last anywhere from 10 seconds to more than a minute. It depends a lot on the duck variety as some ducks can say underwater slightly longer than other ones.

Duck generally can be divided into two types, drivers and dabblers. Divers are found to be able to hold their breath underwater longer than dabblers.



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