A pair of Quetzalcoatlus nothropi raid the nest of Tyrannosaurus rex in what will eventually become the Hell Creek Formation of Montana in 65 million years time. The idea here is that the animal on the right is the more striking male, whilst the drab pterosaur behind him is a female. The stallion (yes, stallion) also sports a wild mane down the length of its neck. I threw that in for two reasons: 1) there are remains of pterosaurs from central Asia and Germany that show pterosaurs with thick, bushy hair down the backs of their necks and, 2) the long azhdarchid neck (including that of the animals here) lends itself well to having such a display structure. There's no shortage of neck, after all.
Of course, one has to wonder if this image would ever have been played out in life. Would, for instance, baby Tyrannosaurus be kept in the nest? My recollection of fascinating facts about dinosaur nesting is that some species kept their hatched offspring in a nest and others didn't. There is some possible evidence that tyrannosaurids lived in groups, so my interpretation here is that the ma and pa tyrannosaurs have gone off a-hunting, leaving the kids at home in the safety of the nest. I've even thrown in a pile of vegetation that was used to hide the nest cap from prowling egg/baby thieves, although it obviously hasn't worked here.
That brings us to another issue: would Quetzalcoatlus have raided the nest of Tyrannosaurus? Well, they both occur in the same time in the same places: you can find contemporaneous fossils of both in Texas and Montana, so that's not an issue. Equally, to the disgust of some other pterosaur workers, the is increasingly good evidence that the likes of Quetzalcoatlus would have not plucked hapless fish from bodies of water like 'all other pterosaurs' but would have instead wandered over land, picking up snack-sized prey like giant, terrestrialised storks. I don't want to give too much away here as Darren and I are currently working on a paper on this, but you can find some of the rationale behind this heresey at his infamous blog post.
For those of you who're interested, this picture can be viewed as an updated version of the first image I put onto Flickr, which was also the first picture I ever completely coloured with my magic little computer pen. Looking back at this image, which also shows a giant azhdarchid plucking defenceless vertebrates from positions of relative safety, I think this latter one looks a lot better in both the quality of colouring and accuracy of the restoration. The necks in particular are beefier and, although still conveying their immobility, appear more convincing. Of course, whether or not baby Tyrannosaurus shared their plumage colours with ducklings is another matter entirely...
One final note: a chum of mine has suggested that I clarify the context of the title. 'The Vultures Sing' is another song reference and not an indication of azhdarchid ecology or biology. Instead, I'm referring to the sterotypical 'vulture' character: those that opportunistically profit from the calmity and misfortune of others, mercilessly exploiting the weak and vulnerable for their own greed. With this image showing the azhdarchids exploiting the unguarded Tyrannosaurus nest, we're seeing the triumph of these opportunistic predators over a superior carnivore. That's all the romance knocked out of that one, then.
Oh, and really, truly finally: ever wondered how you might square up next to one of these aerial leviathons? Hack your way to through the Internet jungle to here to find out.