How Long Can Ducks Stay Underwater (3 Important Factors)

How Long Can Ducks Stay Underwater

Ducks, known for their remarkable adaptation to aquatic habitats, display a fascinating array of behaviors that continue to intrigue scientists and nature enthusiasts alike.

One such behavior is their ability to submerge themselves underwater, either partially or wholly, which not only aids in their survival but also forms an essential part of their daily routines.

The question of “How long can ducks stay underwater?” though seemingly straightforward, unravels a captivating exploration into their species variations, physiological capabilities, environmental adaptations, and survival tactics.

How Long Can Ducks Stay Underwater

The duration of time a duck can stay underwater varies considerably depending on the species and the circumstances. On average, ducks can stay submerged for about 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

Three main categories of ducks, each with their own underwater capabilities, are diving ducks, dabbling ducks, and sea ducks:

Diving Ducks

Diving ducks, like the Canvasback and Scaups, are adept at diving and can stay underwater for a considerable amount of time.

On average, they can remain submerged for about 15-30 seconds while feeding. However, when evading predators or during intense foraging, they can dive for up to a minute.

Dabbling Ducks

Dabbling ducks, such as Mallards and Teals, generally do not fully submerge themselves in the water. Instead, they usually “dabble” at the surface or tip up to reach underwater, staying submerged for just a few seconds at a time. Full submersion is rare for these types of ducks.

Sea Ducks

Sea ducks, including species like Eiders and Scoters, live in marine environments and are exceptional divers. They can stay underwater for one to two minutes while feeding on marine life.

Some species, such as the Long-tailed Duck, can dive up to 200 feet deep and stay underwater for as long as a couple of minutes.

It’s important to note that these are average times, and individual ducks might stay submerged for shorter or longer periods depending on factors like their health, age, and immediate environmental conditions.

Factors Affecting How Long Ducks Can Stay Underwater

Physical Attributes

  • Lung Capacity

The lung capacity of a duck significantly influences how long it can stay underwater. Larger ducks typically have a greater lung capacity, which allows them to hold their breath for a longer time.

  • Body Shape

Ducks with streamlined bodies can move through the water more efficiently, reducing the amount of oxygen they need and allowing them to stay submerged longer.

  • Feathers And Buoyancy

Ducks have specialized feathers that trap air to increase their buoyancy. However, when diving, ducks can push out this air to decrease their buoyancy and stay underwater longer.

Behavioral Factors

  • Foraging Habits

Ducks that forage underwater, like diving ducks and sea ducks, have evolved to stay underwater longer to access food.

  • Escape From Predators

Ducks may stay underwater longer to evade predators. This requires a rapid burst of energy and can’t be maintained for extended periods.

Environmental Factors

  • Water Temperature

In colder water, ducks, like other animals, can slow their metabolic rate, reducing their need for oxygen and allowing them to stay submerged longer.

  • Food Availability

When food is plentiful, ducks may not need to stay underwater as long. Conversely, when food is scarce, ducks might need to dive deeper and stay submerged longer to find enough food.

  • Safety From Predators

In areas with many predators, ducks might stay underwater longer to stay safe.

These are just a few of the many factors that can influence how long a duck can stay underwater.

How Ducks Optimize Their Time Under Water: Underwater Behavior

Ducks have developed a range of techniques and behaviors to optimize their time underwater, from foraging methods to evading predators.

Foraging Techniques

Ducks have honed various strategies to maximize their food intake during each dive. For instance, diving ducks often prefer to feed in groups, creating a kind of ‘feeding frenzy’ that stirs up the water and makes it easier to catch prey.

Some ducks may also follow a ‘bottom-feeding’ strategy, using their bills to sift through sediment on the sea or lake floor to find food.

Efficient Movement

Ducks have evolved streamlined bodies and strong, webbed feet that enable them to move through water with minimal energy expenditure.

By using their wings and feet in sync, they can navigate underwater efficiently, conserving oxygen and thus prolonging their time underwater.

Buoyancy Control

Ducks can control their buoyancy by adjusting the amount of air in their feathers and lungs. Expelling air allows them to sink and remain underwater while taking in air helps them to float back up to the surface. Mastery of this ability helps ducks optimize their underwater duration.

Predator Evasion

When a threat is detected, ducks can swiftly dive underwater to escape. They might stay submerged and motionless for an extended period or swim away underwater to confuse and evade the predator.

Recovery Techniques

After resurfacing, ducks need to recover quickly to prepare for the next dive. They do this by taking rapid, shallow breaths to replenish their oxygen supply quickly without causing hyperventilation.

By optimizing these behaviors, ducks are able to make the most of their underwater time, whether for feeding, socializing, or escaping threats.

It’s a testament to their adaptability and the evolutionary strategies they’ve developed to thrive in their watery habitats.

The Impact Of Human Activities On Ducks’ Underwater Duration

Human activities have a significant impact on the natural behavior and survival strategies of wildlife, including ducks and their ability to stay underwater.


Water pollution, particularly from chemicals and plastics, can adversely affect ducks’ ability to stay underwater. Chemical pollutants can damage ducks’ health, reducing their stamina and ability to hold their breath.

Additionally, plastic waste can cause physical harm or even death if ingested, resulting in a decreased population of ducks and limiting their capacity to dive.

Climate Change

Changes in global temperatures can affect the availability of food sources in various habitats. Warmer temperatures could alter the distribution of aquatic plants and animals, forcing ducks to change their diving and foraging behavior, potentially increasing the time they spend underwater in search of food.

Hunting And Fishing

Overhunting can disrupt ducks’ natural behavior, including diving and underwater feeding. Fishing activities can also be harmful.

Ducks can become entangled in fishing nets or lines, which can cause injury, and stress, and potentially change their underwater behavior.

Habitat Destruction

The destruction of wetlands and other natural habitats due to urbanization, deforestation, and land conversion for agriculture can decrease the available feeding grounds for ducks.

This could potentially increase competition for food, forcing ducks to stay underwater longer or dive deeper in search of sustenance.

Noise Pollution

Human-made noise from boats, constructions near water bodies, or other sources can disturb ducks and other waterfowl, possibly altering their natural behaviors, including their diving and foraging patterns.

Human activities have a profound and often negative impact on ducks’ natural behaviors. Preserving and protecting natural habitats and reducing pollution and climate change are critical to maintaining the diverse and intricate behaviors of ducks, including their ability to stay underwater.


The remarkable ability of ducks to stay underwater showcases their exceptional adaptation to their aquatic habitats.

The exact duration of their underwater stay, ranging from seconds to minutes, is influenced by a plethora of factors such as species variation, physical attributes, behavior, and environmental conditions.

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