MERLIN, the football-loving parrot, has been reunited with his owners after flying off on a four-day trip to the seaside.

The African grey disappeared from his home in Hurworth-on-Tees, near Darlington, leaving owners, Jennie and Gary Hazlewood, fearing they’d never see him again.

But the couple were overjoyed when Merlin turned up four days later in Hartlepool – nearly 30 miles away on the coast.

Jennie bought Merlin as a chick in 2013, as a Christmas present for Gary, a lifelong fan of Middlesbrough Football Club.

Before long, Merlin had also turned into a Middlesbrough supporter, learning to chant: “Up the Boro” and “Come on, you reds”.

He also became known as a comedian, with lines such as “I see dead people” and “I’m a duck – quack, quack”.

However, Jennie and Gary feared the worst when magical Merlin performed his own disappearing act during a thunderstorm.

Jennie said: “We’d opened the door of Merlin’s cage to let him stretch his wings. The wind blew the back door open, and he just went straight out. We searched, but there was no sign of him, and we felt upset and helpless.”

Jennie issued an appeal on a Facebook group dedicated to reuniting lost birds with their owners.

That led to the discovery that Merlin had struck lucky by flying into the arms of Erika Nugent, who happens to be chairman of Claws ‘n’ Paws bird, an animal rescue charity, in Hartlepool.

Erika’s husband, Paul, said: “A couple had caught him in nearby Summerhill Country Park, but he’d escaped again, and the next day he landed on a fence in an allotment right next to ours.

“When Erika went up to him, he just walked into her clutches. It was the easiest catch she’s ever made!”

Jennie said: “Someone sent a Facebook message to say a grey parrot had been found in Hartlepool but the chances of Merlin flying 27 miles were very slim. African greys all look the same, so we thought it was probably a different bird.

“It was a long shot, but I sent his details so they could check his leg-ring, and the next day Paul, from Claws ‘n’ Paws, rang back to say it was Merlin!

“We went to pick him up, and Gary reached out to him and said: ‘How do you do’. We knew it was definitely him when he shook Gary’s finger with his claw.

“I want to say thank you to everyone who helped look for him and shared our appeal, and to Claws ‘n’ Paws. We’re amazed at how far he travelled, but we’re just relieved he’s safe.”

One of Merlin’s other tricks is opening the cage of his best pal, Caspar the budgie, to let him out to play, and Jennie said: “I think the budgie is happier than any of us to have Merlin back.”