Bird was born in Stoughton, Massachusetts. Bird became a pilot at an early age due to the encouragement of his father, a World War I pilot, and from meeting Orville Wright at an early age. He performed his first solo flight at age 14; by age 16, he was working to obtain multiple major pilot certifications. Bird enlisted with the United States Army Air Corps, and entered active duty in 1941 as a technical air training officer due to his advanced qualifications. This rank, combined with the onset of World War II, gave him the opportunity to pilot almost every aircraft in service, including early jet aircraft and helicopters.

The newest models of aircraft were capable of exceeding altitudes at which humans can breathe, even with 100% oxygen supplementation, introducing the risk of hypoxia. Bird discovered that an oxygen regulator in a crashed German bomber he was ferrying back to the U.S. for study, seemed to contain a pressure breathing circuit. He took the oxygen regulator home, studied it, and made it more functional, and it became the standard design for high-altitude oxygen regulators for most military aircraft until recent time. Bird studied medicine " ... to understand the human body and its stress in flight". This led to him developing efficient respirators and ventilators.

In 1967, Bird developed the Bird Innovator, a conversion of the Consolidated PBY Catalina amphibian aircraft. His company was Bird Oxygen Breathing Equipment Inc, later renamed Bird Corporation, the aircraft being based at Palm Springs until 1976.

Bird resided in Sagle, Idaho, close to the U.S. / Canadian border which is where his home, production facilities, museum and ranch are located. Dr. Bird collected and restored old planes, old cars, and motorcycles.

Forrest and Pamela Bird opened the Bird Aviation Museum and Invention Center in July 2007, with aviator Patty Wagstaff cutting a ceremonial ribbon at the end of the runway while flying. The Bird's are the founders and owners of the museum, which showcases Bird's various aircraft and inventions. On December 10, 2008, Bird received the Presidential Citizens Medal from President George Bush. The United States honored him for his groundbreaking contributions and for his work to keep America at the forefront of discovery. On October 7, 2009, President Barack Obama awarded Bird the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, a recognition of his "outstanding contributions to the promotion of technology for the improvement of the economic, environmental or social well-being of the United States."