Joe Birds was born in Youlgreave in the Peak District in 1887 and joined Stockport County as an amateur in September 1910 from Macclesfield, making his debut at Huddersfield in January 1911. He turned professional soon after and had a spell at Manchester City in 1913-14 without making the first eleven, but returned to Stockport County in July 1919 playing 20 games in their 1919-20 resumption season. He started 2 games in goal in August 1920 but was dropped by County and after 38 games across his 2 spells, he re-joined non league Macclesfield. However a year later in June 1922 he signed for Nelson and played 36 games as they won the Third Division (North) Championship in 1922-23. He played 4 Second Division games at the start of the next season, by this time already 36 years of age, before losing his place and subsequently retiring from professional football.