Raw count data are often used to estimate bird population densities. However, such data do not consider detection probability. As an alternative, methods that model detection probability such as distance-sampling have been proposed. However, standard distance-sampling provides reliable estimates for absolute density only when the underlying assumptions are met. One of the most critical of these assumptions is that animals on a transect line or at an observation point have to be detected with certainty (the g(0) = 1 assumption). We radiotagged nine Orphean Warblers Sylvia hortensis and estimated their short-distance detection probability. Birds were radio-located in 264 cases in single bushes or trees. Their visual detection probability after a 5-min search was only 0.58 (sd = ±0.14, range = 0.38–0.80), although the observer knew the bird's location. Furthermore, we carried out a literature review to assess how the g(0) = 1 assumption is handled in practice. None of the 28 standard distance-sampling papers reviewed contained an estimation of g(0). In 57% of the papers, the g(0) = 1 assumption was not even mentioned. Nevertheless, none of the authors declared their estimates as being relative. Our empirical data show that the g(0) = 1 assumption would be severely violated for a foliage-gleaning bird species at a desert stopover site outside the breeding season. The literature review revealed that the testing of the g(0) = 1 assumption is largely ignored in practice. We strongly suggest that more attention should be paid to the testing of this key assumption, because results may not be reliable when it is violated. If it is not possible to test the g(0) = 1 assumption or g(0) is less than 1, alternative methods should be used. Another possibility is to estimate detection probability by the means of radiotagged individuals.