How Fast Can a Duck Swim? Facts

Ducks are a species of waterfowl. They spend much of their life on the water where they swim, forage, mate, and sleep. As such, they have become very well adapted to their aquatic lifestyle. There are many different types of ducks, some of which are excellent swimmers while others excel at diving. 

But just how effective are ducks in propelling themselves across the water’s surface? Let’s find out as I reveal just how fast can a duck swim.

What Makes Ducks Good at Swimming?

The three main physical attributes that allow ducks to be proficient swimmers include webbed feet for propulsion, feathers that assist with buoyancy, and hollow bones, making them lightweight and therefore easier to propel across the water. 

Webbed Feet

Waterfowl, including ducks, have webbed feet. Duck’s feet are called palmate, which is the most common type of webbed foot. Palmate is defined by three front-facing toes which are joined by a thin stretch of skin known as webbing.  

The back toe (hallux) is small, slightly raised, and separate. Webbed feet are triangular in shape. The word ‘palmate’ means ‘shaped like an open palm’ from the original Latin word, ‘palmatus’. 

Webbed feet have evolved in waterfowl due to their aquatic lifestyle. They act as paddles, helping propel the duck through the water. They are also used as rudders, helping steer the duck in the correct direction. 

As ducks move their feet backward underwater, they spread out their toes and webs. This pushes the water away with force. As the duck brings their foot forward, they close its toes. These actions resemble that of how rowing oars are used. 

Webbed Feet
The webbed feet of a duck
Credit: Rhododendrites by CC 4.0


The feathers that coat a duck’s body indirectly help them swim by keeping the duck buoyant. Ducks have a sebaceous gland near their tail, called the uropygial gland. They run their bill on this gland and pick up the oil it produces. 

During preening, ducks rub their oil-coated bill over their feathers. This coats the feathers in the oil, giving them a hydrophobic property, essentially making them waterproof. This prevents the feathers from absorbing the water they are swimming in, which would make them heavier. 

Additionally, ducks blow air into the feathers as part of their preening process. Feathers are made up of many tiny barbs that overlap and interlock with one another. This configuration traps a layer of air in the feathers against the duck’s body. The trap air bubbles keep the duck buoyant. 


Ducks, like many species of birds, have hollow bones. Instead of bone and bone marrow, duck bones contain many large air pockets inside. This means they weigh very little, reducing the overall weight and density of the duck. 

Although hollow bones are lightweight, they are still very strong. By carrying less weight, they can easily stay afloat (and fly). 

Do All Ducks Swim Underwater?

Ducks can be divided into two broad groups: dabbling ducks and diving ducks. Dabblers are capable of diving but seldom do. Instead, they forage from the surface of the water and even dry land. Divers, on the other hand, feed by diving under the water. 

A group of mallards
A group of mallards simultaneously dabbling in the water 
Credit: David Whelan by CC 1.0

Types of Diving Ducks

There are 16 species of diving duck. These are the Canvasback, Ferruginous, Hardhead, Marbled, Pochard, Redhead, Ring-necked, Rosybill, Scaup, and Tufted. 

Pochard ducks can further be divided into Baers, Common, Madagascar, Red-crested and Southern. 

Scaup ducks can further be divided into Greater, Lesser, and New Zealand. 

Eider Duck Diving Depth 

Adult eider ducks generally dive between depths of 10m and 20m. however, they have been recorded to reach depths of up to 42m. They can dive the furthest of all duck species. 

They feed on aquatic invertebrates including mollusks, crustaceans, echinoderms, and fish eggs. They dive underwater to catch their prey, which they then bring to the surface to consume. Tiny prey items are swallowed whilst they are still underwater. 

Redhead Duck Diving Depth 

Redhead ducks dive below the surface between depths of 1m and 3m. they can dive as deep as 14m however. 

They feed primarily on submerged, aquatic vegetation such as algae and musk grass. Despite being diving ducks, they can often be seen dabbing in shallow waters. 

Canvasback Duck Diving Depth

Canvasback ducks usually dive up to depths of 2m. however, they have been recorded diving to depths of around 9m. 

Canvasbacks are omnivores and will consume anything from seeds to plants to insects to mussels. They dive straight down and extract aquatic plants using their bill. Other food sources forage near the surface of the water. 

Mallard Duck Swim Speed MPH

The mallard duck is the most common species of duck in the world. Additionally, they are some of the fastest species. They reach speeds of around 4-6 mph. 

They use their speed to escape from predators and obtain food. 

Pintail Duck Swim Speed MPH

Pintail ducks are large, perching ducks with long tails. They can reach speeds of 4 mph.

Gadwall Duck Swim Speed MPH

Gladwell ducks have slender bodies which are efficient for cutting through the water quickly and efficiently. Extra power is provided through their strong leg muscles. They swim between 3 and 5 mph. 

How Fast Can Ducks Swim

Although ducks are great swimmers, they cannot swim as fast as you may think. They can fly a lot faster than they can swim. On average, ducks swim at speeds of between 3-3 mph. However, some duck species have been recorded reaching up to 6 mph. 

Ducklings can begin learning to swim when they are around 1 week old. In the wild, they have the help and protection of their mother to begin swimming. However, domestic ducks need to be supervised when starting to swim. 

Baby ducks can play in the water, but they cannot swim by themselves until their down feather molt and their juvenile feather grow in. 

For ducklings to be able to swim, they must first be able to float. To be buoyant, having waterproof feathers is essential. Ducklings cannot secret the preen oil required to waterproof their feathers, but their mother does. Mother ducks release oil into the water, which the ducklings will swim through.  

Once they reach between 7 and 9 weeks, ducklings will be able to swim by themselves. 

On average, ducklings swim between 0.2 mph and 0.6 mph. However, they can reach speeds of up to 1.5 mph. 

How Long Can Ducks Stay Underwater

Diving ducks, as their name suggests, are known for their divining abilities and are able to remain underwater for fairly substantial periods of time and depths. Dabbling ducks, however, are not particularly strong divers but are excellent swimmers. 

Mallards are dabbling ducks and can only remain underwater for around 5 seconds at a time. 

Long-tailed ducks are a diving species and can stay under the water for anywhere between 10 and 30 seconds. 

Eiders are the most capable divers of all diving duck species. They can reach depths of almost 20m, the deepest of any duck. 

Scoters have been recorded diving up to 6m underwater, remaining below the surface for up to one minute. 

Mergansers are a type of seaduck. They dive up 12m in pursuit of fish. Their dives last around 30 seconds at a time. 

Do Ducks Breathe Underwater? 

Only animals with gills are able to breathe underwater. As the animal opens its mouth, water gets pushed over the gills, and blood in the capillaries picks up oxygen that is dissolved in the water. Ducks, however, do not have gills. 

Like us, ducks have lungs and breathe oxygen in the air. When they dive underwater, they hold their breath. On average, ducks hold their breath for between 10 and 30 seconds. Of course, the deeper they forage, the longer they will have to hold their breath. Some diving ducks can stay underwater for over a minute. 

One study showed a White-Winged scoter spent on average, 58 seconds under the water over a total of 6 dives. It also only took intervals of around 12 seconds between each dive. 

The circulatory system of diving ducks is adapted to functioning with low oxygen. They have also evolved a high tolerance for asphyxia (oxygen deprivation).

FAQ How Fast Can a Duck Swim?