Born in Bethesda, Maryland, Byrd received a B.S in horticulture from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 1975 and a M.L.A from the University of Virginia in 1978. After receiving his M.L.A. he worked as a project designer in the office of Meade Palmer and served as a consultant to Rieley & Associates and EDAW, Inc. In 1985 he partnered with Susan Nelson, founding Nelson Byrd Landscape Architects, which became Nelson Byrd Woltz in 2004 after Thomas Woltz joined as a principal. Byrd served as the principal in charge and primary designer for numerous projects including: the Dell stormwater park at the University of Virginia; the Asia Trail at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.; Citygarden Sculpture Park in St. Louis, Missouri; and Nike European Headquarters in Hilversum, The Netherlands. Byrd additionally taught landscape architecture at the University of Virginia for 26 years, serving as the department chair for seven years. Throughout his career as a practitioner and instructor Byrd has pioneered the utilization of natural systems in sustainable design. He became a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects in 2004 and in 2013 he was awarded the ASLA Medal. Now serving as a Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia, he retired from private practice the same year. He currently resides in Albemarle County, Virginia with his partner, Susan Nelson.