Australia’s waterbirds are mostly nomadic, capitalising on highly variable aquatic resources in the arid interior (70% of the continent) for feeding and breeding. Waterbirds, unlike most aquatic organisms, can move between catchments, exploiting habitat wherever it occurs. In Australia, patterns of resource availability for waterbirds are mostly pulsed with peaks of productivity, coinciding with flooding and differing in time and space, affecting individuals, species and functional groups of waterbirds. Australian waterbirds are no different from waterbirds elsewhere, with their behaviour reflecting broad-scale resource availability. They respond to changing patterns of resource distribution, with rapid movements at spatial and temporal scales commensurate with the dynamics of the resource. The most serious conservation threat to waterbirds is a bottleneck in resource availability, leading to population declines, increasingly forced by anthropogenic impacts. River regulation and other threats (e.g. draining) reduce the availability of wetland habitat and decrease the probability of viable resource patches. It is axiomatic that waterbirds need water and such population bottlenecks may occur when the availability of water across the continent is limited. The rehabilitation of regulated rivers with environmental flows and protection of naturally flowing rivers in the arid region are essential for long-term sustainability of Australia’s waterbird populations.