Bird Seed Mining

By Becky Kadel


Mining is a complex process in which relatively small amounts of valuable or useful minerals or metals are extracted from very large masses of rock. This activity will illustrate how this "needle in a haystack" process works.


  • Wild bird food - any commercial bird seed mix with sunflower seeds and at least 2 other seed varieties
  • Shallow pans (inexpensive plastic paint pans work good)
  • Small beads (approximately 2mm) blue, gold and silver


  1. Divide students into groups of 4 to 6.
  2. Pour approximately 1 pound of birdseed in each pan.
  3. Add 2 gold beads, 4 silver beads, and 8 blue beads to each pan - mix into birdseed.
  4. Students search through the seed mixture and separate out or "mine" beads, sunflower seeds, and other grain products, making piles of each. Allow 5 minutes for the mining activity.
  5. The beads and seeds represent the following:
    • Gold Beads = Gold
    • Silver Beads = Silver
    • Blue Beads = Copper
    • Sunflower Seeds = Iron
    • Other Grains = Lead/Zinc
    • Light-colored millet = Waste
  6. Assign a value for each type of bead or seed.
    • Examples as follows:
    • Gold Beads = Gold = $5.00 each
    • Silver Beads = Silver = $4.00 each
    • Blue Beads = Copper = $3.00 each
    • Sunflower Seeds = Iron = $2.00 each
    • Other Grains = Lead/Zinc = $1.00 each
    • Light-colored millet = Waste = $0.00
  7. Have the students count up the beads and seeds from each pile and multiply the numbers of each by their values given in #6.
  8. Have each group total up the dollar value of their "mining" operation and share their success with the other groups.