Ned was born on November 26, 1876, in Delavan, Wisconsin, to Kinner Newcomb and Frances Margaret Hollister. He attended Delavan High School. At age 12 he became interested in birds while under the influence of Ludwig Kumlien, who was a professor at Milton College. He published his first papers on ornithology at the young age of sixteen. At 18 he was elected to the American Ornithologists' Union.
In 1901, Ned made his first trip to Washington, D.C., and met some of the people with whom he would later work. The first of six field excursions that he took as part of government service occurred when he worked with Vernon Bailey in Texas in the summer of 1902. In 1903 he visited Alaska, and in 1904, he earned a permanent position with the Biological Survey. He traveled and collected in Utah, Nevada, Oregon, California, Arizona, and New Mexico in 1905. In 1909, he went back to California, and in 1911, he was the leader of a group working in the Canadian Rockies for the U.S. National Museum. Ned Hollister was appointed to be assistant curator of mammals at the U.S. National Museum in 1910. While working for the Smithsonian in 1912 Ned visited the Altai Mountains in Siberia and Mongolia with Dr. Theodore Lyman. Then in 1916, he was appointed to be superintendent of the National Zoological Park, where he continued to work until he died.
He was especially outstanding in his work as museum curator, and often took time to study the collections and write about them. Publications he wrote or edited include East African Mammals, Journal of Mammalogy, Birds of Wisconsin, many papers in The Auk, and North American Ducks and Geese.
Along with belonging to the American Ornithologists’ Union, he was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, honorary member of the Sociedad Estudios Biologicos of Mexico, vice-president of the Baird Ornithological Club, president in 1921 of the Biological Society of Washington, and a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and the Washington Academy of Sciences.
Ned was remembered as quiet, modest, easily making friends, a keen observer, and a very systematic worker. He died in Washington, D.C., on November 3, 1924.
Ned was elected to membership in the Washington Biologists’ Field Club in 1908.