The small-island effect (SIE), i.e. the hypothesis that species richness on islands below a certain threshold area varies independently of area, has become more and more part of the theoretical framework of biogeography and biodiversity research. However, existing SIE studies are extraordinarily biased taxonomically: plants and other animal taxonomic groups are predominantly studied, while birds are almost completely overlooked. Furthermore, previous methods for the detection of SIE are flawed in one or another way, including not accounting for model complexity, not comparing all relevant models, not including islands with no species, and ignoring the effects of logarithmic data transformations and habitat diversity in generating SIE. Therefore, the existence and the prevalence of the SIE may be dubious. In this study, after controlling for all these methodological shortcomings in detecting the SIE, we test for the existence of the SIE using bird data collected on islands in the Thousand Island Lake, China. We used the line-transect method to survey bird occupancy and abundance on 42 islands from 2007 to 2011. We used three broad sets of analyses, regression-based analyses, path analyses and null model analyses, to overcome potential methodological problems in detecting the SIE. We found no evidence for an SIE in avian communities in the Thousand Island Lake. Model selection based on AICc identified the simple power model without SIE as the most parsimonious model. In contrast, there was little support for the three breakpoint regression models with SIE. Path analyses and null model analyses also did not detect an SIE. We conclude that, for the robust detection of SIE, future study should carefully take all these methodological pitfalls into account.