Restoration of waterbird diversity and abundance is a key objective of river system management in Australia. Therefore, understanding the effects of climatic and hydrological variables on waterbird population dynamics is fundamental for successful river restoration programs. We investigated the population dynamics of waterbirds (total abundance) and seven functional waterbird groups in the floodplains of lower Murrumbidgee River. We found a general declining abundance trend from 1983 to 2007, except for the deep water foragers. We modelled the relative contribution of the climatic and hydrological factors to waterbird population decrease using the generalized additive model (GAM) framework after identifying the negative binomial distribution. Most of the seven functional groups were positively related to both annual rainfall and water usage, defined as the total water volume intercepted by the river reach, and the models indicated that rainfall was slightly more important. Temperature also played a role in waterbird abundance: the maximum summer temperature negatively influenced the abundance of dabbling ducks, shoreline foragers and fish eaters, while the minimum winter temperature positively affected the abundance of dabbling ducks and shoreline foragers. Overall, our results support the practice of providing environmental water for sustaining waterbird populations. However, environmental water provision is likely to be most effective when timed to coincide with antecedent rainfall.