In order to better understand the nature of disturbances to wintering snowy plovers, I observed snowy plovers and activities that might disturb them at a beach near Devereux Slough in Santa Barbara, California, USA. Disturbance (activity that caused plovers to move or fly) to wintering populations of threatened western snowy plovers was 16 times higher at a public beach than at protected beaches. Wintering plovers reacted to disturbance at half the distance (???40 m) as has been reported for breeding snowy plovers (???80 m). Humans, dogs, crows and other birds were the main sources of disturbance on the public beach, and each snowy plover was disturbed, on average, once every 27 weekend min and once every 43 weekday min. Dogs off leash were a disproportionate source of disturbance. Plovers were more likely to fly from dogs, horses and crows than from humans and other shorebirds. Plovers were less abundant near trail heads. Over short time scales, plovers did not acclimate to or successfully find refuge from disturbance. Feeding rates declined with increased human activity. I used data from these observations to parameterize a model that predicted rates of disturbance given various management actions. The model found that prohibiting dogs and a 30 m buffer zone surrounding a 400 m stretch of beach provided the most protection for plovers for the least amount of impact to beach recreation.