Within-site variability in species detectability is a problem common to many biodiversity assessments and can strongly bias the results. Such variability can be caused by many factors, including simple counting inaccuracies, which can be solved by increasing sample size, or by temporal changes in species behavior, meaning that the way the temporal sampling protocol is designed is also very important. Here we use the example of mist-netted tropical birds to determine how design decisions in the temporal sampling protocol can alter the data collected and how these changes might affect the detection of ecological patterns, such as the species-area relationship (SAR). Using data from almost 3400 birds captured from 21,000 net-hours at 31 sites in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest, we found that the magnitude of ecological trends remained fairly stable, but the probability of detecting statistically significant ecological patterns varied depending on sampling effort, time of day and season in which sampling was conducted. For example, more species were detected in the wet season, but the SAR was strongest in the dry season. We found that the temporal distribution of sampling effort was more important than its total amount, discovering that similar ecological results could have been obtained with one-third of the total effort, as long as each site had been equally sampled over 2 yr. We discuss that projects with the same sampling effort and spatial design, but with different temporal sampling protocol are likely to report different ecological patterns, which may ultimately lead to inappropriate conservation strategies.