New Zealanders are being called upon to help save our national icon by reporting kiwi sightings to conservationists.

The launch of the major citizen science project comes as the first kiwi hatched under the Operation Nest Egg programme was released yesterday, and just in time for October's Save Kiwi Month.

Dubbed Quest for Kiwi, the new programme aims to pinpoint where kiwi are present and where not, providing a better understanding of where conservation efforts are most needed to ensure the endangered species is preserved for future generations.

It is estimated there were several million kiwi roaming New Zealand's bush at the start of the last century, but because of factors like predation, that number has been slashed to 70,000 and is declining by 2 per cent each year.

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In the programme, launched by charity Kiwis for Kiwi in partnership with the Department of Conservation through the online platform NatureWatch NZ, people can identify kiwi by their calls, feathers, footprints, probe holes, burrows and droppings, and record them using a camera or mobile phone app.

The details can then be uploaded on to the Quest for Kiwi webpage, where the sighting will be posted to a location map and made available for verification from bird and kiwi specialists.

Michelle Impey, executive director of Kiwis for Kiwi, said the Quest for Kiwi programme was not just a data-gathering exercise, but a way to teach more New Zealanders about their namesake. "Saving kiwi from extinction is achievable. We know turning the declining kiwi population around is within our grasp but we have to take action now while we still have a base population of kiwi, before it's too late."

Yesterday, Ms Impey and conservation workers celebrated the release of a 4-week-old kiwi chick called Akito on to pest-free Motuora Island in the Hauraki Gulf, where it will remain until it reaches a weight of 1kg and then be set free in the wild.

The bird was collected in its egg from DoC's kiwi sanctuary at Riponui in Northland, and then hatched as part of Operation Nest Egg at Auckland Zoo last year.

"This programme involves removing vulnerable kiwi eggs and young chicks from the burrows until they are able to be safely returned to the wild without risk of predation."

For more information about the programmes and Save Kiwi Month, visit kiwisforkiwi.org

Kiwi facts
•There are five species of kiwi and all are endangered.
•An average of 21 kiwi are killed by predators every week. There are now about 70,000 kiwi left in the wild.
•Up to 60 per cent of kiwi chicks survive in areas where predators are controlled but in areas not under management.
•About 95 per cent of kiwi die before reaching breeding age.
•Stoats, ferrets, dogs and cats are considered the key cause of current kiwi decline.