Charles Sperry was born in 1895 in north-central Kansas where he grew up on his family's farm. There he gained his fondness for the outdoors and later became a charter member of the Wildlife Society. Sperry attended Kansas University in Lawrence, Kansas, but his education was interrupted by World War I. Sperry served in the machine gun battalion of the 89th Infantry Division in France where he was wounded in action. He then resumed his studies at Kansas University and graduated in 1919.
The Bureau of Biological Survey (BBS), Food Habits Division hired Sperry immediately after graduation to work as a biologist in the Washington, D.C. area. His work included assignments in national forests, wildlife refuges, wildlife management, and research related to bird and food habits. Co-worker Jerome Besser recalled Sperry's quirky behavior in the early days of his career: “It was during those days that Charlie would leave Washington in April on a motorcycle equipped with a side car, travel much of the United States and return in October, once to greet a 4-month-old daughter for the first time.”
Sperry established the Denver Laboratory of Food Habits Research in 1932. (This lab was combined with several other BBS labs in 1940 to become the Denver Wildlife Research Center, under the Department of Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service.) In a progress report from 1932, Sperry justified laboratory animal stomach examinations. He believed that the laboratory, rather than field examinations, provided greater accuracy for identification of food contents and a better way to compile and calculate data. Previously, most stomach-examinations data tracked the number of items in bulk located in an animal's stomach. Sperry wanted the ability to calculate the frequency that an item appeared in a stomach, which the lab facilitated.
Initial laboratory research by Sperry in Denver looked at food habits of the coyote during different seasons. Sperry wrote a report on the food habits of the peg-leg coyote. Such coyotes proved to be a greater threat to domestic livestock than four-legged coyotes and consumed more carrion.
Sperry's experiments professionalized food habit research by moving it into a laboratory and striving for greater accuracy and efficiency. In 1956 Sperry retired after thirty-six years of federal service. He won the Department of the Interior's Distinguished Service Award in 1957. He then traveled extensively with his wife to countries around the globe. Sperry died June 23, 1978, in Denver, Colorado.