There are over one hundred duck species throughout the world, each with individual attributes that can affect how fast it can swim.
In general, however, all ducks spend a large portion of their time in the water and are adept at swimming.
Ducks can’t swim very fast, with some studies showing speeds between 0.6 mph and 3 mph for various species. They’re much faster at flying, averaging about 49 mph in the air. However, ducks don’t need to swim very fast. They travel and protect themselves in ways other than swimming.
Different Types of Ducks
Diving ducks, or just “divers,” do what their name suggests: they dive. Unlike dabbling ducks who like shallow waters, divers prefer deeper, more open water. They can dive down to 40 feet to look for various invertebrates, fish, and snails to eat.
Most often, though, divers stay in water between one-and-a-half and six-feet deep. They’ll stay under water from 10 to 20 seconds, though they can also stay underwater longer if they need to.
Diver ducks have large feet on the back of their bodies, giving them more power when diving and swimming. This also makes them awkward when walking on land, though, unlike dabbling ducks.
Divers also compress their wings and feathers to make them less buoyant to help with diving. These same small wings, however, make it harder for them to take off from the water.
Divers have to run across the water while using rapid wingbeats to take off, similar to a runway. They zoom across the water until they have enough power and speed to take flight.
They also use the runway technique when landing, putting their feet forward to skid to a stop. Dabbling ducks, on the other hand, fly slower and can land with more accuracy.
The most common diver ducks in North America are canvasbacks, scaup, redheads, and ring-necked ducks.
Dabbling ducks, also known as puddle ducks, have small, compact bodies and float high in the water.
They prefer shallow water, which allows them to stick just their heads under the water. They then eat insects, plants, worms, seeds, and grains.
When dabbling ducks feed underwater, their backsides stick straight up in the air. They’re rarely fully submerged. Typically, they’ll only dive if they’re avoiding a predator.
Some dabblers, like mallards, can walk on land with ease because their feet are in the center of their body. Dabblers also have bigger wings than most divers, meaning they can take off straight up from the water.
Common types of dabbler ducks include mallards, gadwalls, pintails, shovelers, teals, and wigeons.
In addition to dabbling and diver ducks, some experts include a third broad category: perching ducks. These include the Muscovy, the wood duck, and the mandarin duck.
Perching ducks are identifiable by their long claws and their penchant for roosting in trees. They also almost always have iridescent colors on the body, on the upper wing area in particular.
How Fast Can Ducks Swim?
While most ducks can both swim and fly, it’s their flight speed that is the most documented. However, there is some data on the swimming speeds of mallards (a dabbling duck), wood ducks (a perching duck), and canvasbacks (a diver duck).
|Duck Species||Swimming Speed|
|Wood Duck (ducklings)||0.60 mph|
So, ducks don’t swim all that fast, especially compared to other birds. The fastest bird swimmer in the world, the gentoo penguin, can swim in bursts up to 22 mph.
Ducks Don’t Need To Swim Fast
Ducks aren’t very fast swimmers, but they don’t need to be.
Diver ducks can hold their breath long enough to get the food they need, so they don’t need to rush back to the surface. Dabbler ducks don’t go far under the water to begin with, so there’s no need for them to speed back up, either.
Ducks are migratory birds, and use “flyways” to do so, travelling hundreds of miles. Flying through open air is more efficient than favoring unconnected bodies of water.
They don’t even need swimming speed for predators. The main predators of ducks are land animals. This includes foxes, coyotes, and minks.
Duck populations are also affected by other mammals, birds, and aquatic animals, but this is due to the vulnerability of duck eggs and duckling. Over 50% of mallard ducklings do not survive their first year due to predation.
Defenseless Ducklings and Eggs
Many of these predators, especially scavengers and raptors, target the weak, sick, or defenseless. Even if ducks were fast swimmers, it would take them time to grow into that speed.
Baby animals, like ducklings, are naturally weaker and more vulnerable than their parents, and are therefore easy prey.
Eggs are the most defenseless against attacks. They may have one or both parents nearby but are unable to defend themselves on their own.
This makes them much easier to eat for scavengers like badgers and skunks despite the adults, who have more to protect than just themselves.
Adult Duck Defense
On their own, adults have more of an advantage over their young, and swimming speed doesn’t factor in very much. If an animal attacks them on the water or on land, an adult duck can fly away – many up to 49 mph (80 km/h).
Evolution has also given ducks an advantage over ducklings with their appearances. Females tend to have drab, brown coloring to begin with, so predators are less likely to notice them.
Males are much more brightly colored. However, when they’re molting – and therefore unable to fly – their colors become more like female colors to protect them when they can’t fly away.
Female ducks (called “hens”) also nest in areas that provide overhead cover, so predators won’t see them at their most vulnerable.
Ducks are a type of waterfowl, meaning they spend a lot of time on the water. Despite this, not much is known about their specific swimming speeds as opposed to their flying speeds.
In the studies conducted, a few species of ducks could swim between 0.6 and 3 mph. This is slow both compared to other swimming birds and the flight speed of the ducks themselves.
However, due to their flight abilities and migratory natures, ducks don’t need to swim very fast either for travel or for safety.