We used a probabilistic approach to address the influence of sampling artifacts on the form of species-area relationships (SARs). We developed a model in which the increase in observed species richness is a function of sampling effort exclusively. We assumed that effort depends on area sampled, and we generated species-area curves under that model. These curves can be realistic looking. We then generated SARs from avian data, comparing SARs based on counts with those based on richness estimates. We used an approach to estimation of species richness that accounts for species detection probability and, hence, for variation in sampling effort. The slopes of SARs based on counts are steeper than those of curves based on estimates of richness, indicating that the former partly reflect failure to account for species detection probability. SARs based on estimates reflect ecological processes exclusively, not sampling processes. This approach permits investigation of ecologically relevant hypotheses. The slope of SARs is not influenced by the slope of the relationship between habitat diversity and area. In situations in which not all of the species are detected during sampling sessions, approaches to estimation of species richness integrating species detection probability should be used to investigate the rate of increase in species richness with area.