Protected area networks help species respond to climate warming. However, the contribution of a site's environmental and conservation-relevant characteristics to these responses is not well understood. We investigated how composition of nonbreeding waterbird communities (97 species) in the European Union Natura 2000 (N2K) network (3018 sites) changed in response to increases in temperature over 25 years in 26 European countries. We measured community reshuffling based on abundance time series collected under the International Waterbird Census relative to N2K sites’ conservation targets, funding, designation period, and management plan status. Waterbird community composition in sites explicitly designated to protect them and with management plans changed more quickly in response to climate warming than in other N2K sites. Temporal community changes were not affected by the designation period despite greater exposure to temperature increase inside late-designated N2K sites. Sites funded under the LIFE program had lower climate-driven community changes than sites that did not received LIFE funding. Our findings imply that efficient conservation policy that helps waterbird communities respond to climate warming is associated with sites specifically managed for waterbirds.