Human activities have caused extensive loss of estuarine wetlands, and the restoration of functional habitats remains a challenging task given several physical constraints in strongly embanked estuaries. In the Schelde estuary (Belgium), a new tidal marsh restoration technique, Controlled Reduced Tide system (CRT), is being implemented in the freshwater zone. A polder area of 8.2 ha was equipped with a CRT to test the system functionality. Among different ecological compartments that are studied for assessing the CRT restoration success, avifauna was monitored over three years. The tidal regime generated a habitat gradient typical of tidal freshwater wetlands along which the distributions of bird and ecological groups were studied. 103 bird species were recorded over the three years. In addition to many generalist bird species, several specialist species typical of the North Sea coast were present. Thirty-nine species of local and/or international conservation interest were encountered, emphasising the importance of this habitat for certain species. Species communities and ecological groups were strongly habitat specific and non-randomly organized across habitats. Spatiotemporal analyses highlighted a rapid habitat colonization, and a subsequent stable habitat community structure across seasons in spite of strong seasonal species turnovers. Hence, these findings advocate CRT implementation as a means to effectively compensate for wetland habitat loss.
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