Brooks was born on the family farm at French Creek, Upshur County, West Virginia. His father — photographer and local historian Fred E. Brooks — and three of his uncles were also professional naturalists or biologists. One uncle was Albert Nelson Brooks (1897–1966), surveyor and naturalist (and namesake of the Brooks Bird Club).
Maurice Brooks attended Davis and Elkins College and West Virginia Wesleyan College before eventually graduating from West Virginia University (WVU) in 1923. He was also educated at the University of Michigan. He later taught at the University of Virginia and the University of Minnesota.
In 1934, he joined the faculty of WVU as a professor in the Biology Department. In 1938, he moved to the Division of Forestry, where he taught courses in wildlife management until his retirement in 1969.
While perhaps best known for his contributions to ornithology, Brooks also made contributions to Appalachian botany, herpetology, mammalogy, and chemical ecology