Scientists estimate that giant, extinct pterosaurs could fly 10,000 miles without stopping. They arrived at this figure (which, researcher Michael Habib was quick to confirm, is a conservative estimate!) by modeling and estimating wingspans, wing shape, body mass, and fat capacity. Just as migrating birds can lose 50% of their weight during migrations, pterosaurs likely would have had to burn about 160 pounds of fat on a 10,000 mile journey.
The largest species of Pterosaur, Quetzalcoatlus northropi, is also the largest flying creature ever to live; previously, the wandering albatross (the largest extant flyer) had been used to model pterosaur flight, but the way that birds fly is likely very different than the way these huge pterosaurs fly. To take off, pterosaurs likely launched themselves into the air using all four legs, or dropped from a height (a tree or cliff). Further, peculiar fibers found in the wing membranes of an exceptionally-preserved pterosaur from China still evade explanations and are unlike anything seen in living organisms. The multiple evolutions of flight (each time with slightly -- or vastly-- different biomechanics) offer myriad comparative research possibilities.
Given a pterosaur's impressive journeying capabilities, perhaps Quetzalcoatlus would not think that Mary Chapin Carpenter's haunting song 10,000 miles is tragic at all...
Large pterosaurs may have been the frequent-flier champions of the dinosaur age, capable of soaring up to 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers) at a stretch, scientists say (explore a prehistoric time line). Currently paleontologists know of four species of giant pterosaur, some of which were as tall as giraffes and had wingspans of more than 30 feet (10 meters). The huge animals likely relied on updrafts of warm air and wind currents to achieve their record distances, said study co-author Michael Habib, a paleontologist at Chatham University in Pittsburgh. "They probably only flapped for a few minutes at a time ... and then their muscles had to recover," he said. "In between, they're going to use unpowered flight" and glide.