Ord was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His father (also named George) was a rope maker and Ord joined him in the business, continuing after his father's death in 1806. In 1829 he retired from the business so that he could devote more time to science.
Ord was friend and avid supporter of Alexander Wilson, accompanying him on several of his journeys. After Wilson's death he finished the eighth and ninth volumes of Wilson's American Ornithology. He issued a life of Wilson in 1828 and published biographies of his fellow naturalists Thomas Say (1834) and Charles Alexandre Lesueur (1849). He also assisted in the enlargement of Samuel Johnson's dictionary and the first edition of Noah Webster's dictionary. He was hostile to John James Audubon, whose drawings he disliked and who he felt was usurping the position of Wilson. He is buried in Philadelphia next to Wilson in Gloria Dei Church cemetery.