Wetlands in tropical and sub-tropical landscapes are experiencing changes and loss due to urbanization and intensive human use, but there is sparse detailed understanding of how these affect use by wetland-dependent birds. Urbanization and conversion of community wetlands to private fish ponds are occurring rapidly in Haryana state in north India. We conducted a study in Palwal district, Haryana in 2013–2014 to simultaneously understand (i) rates and reasons for wetland loss between 1970s and 2000s, and (ii) relative importance of location (towns/ villages versus those amid agriculture) versus site-specific variables on the winter abundance of 31 waterbird species in these fish ponds. Wetland extent reduced by 52 %, and average wetland size reduced by 42 % between 1970s and 2000s. Expansion of urban areas converted 105 agricultural wetlands to town wetlands. Wetlands of different locations could not be differentiated using waterbird abundance suggesting that wetland conditions have been homogenized, in part due to conversions to fish ponds and in part due to urban expansions. Focal waterbird abundance was affected more due to human activities relative to location or vegetation. A complex combination of current management practices and historical determinants of wetland persistence appear to be driving waterbird use of wetlands in locations like Palwal.