egret (ēgrĕtˈ) [key], common name for several species of herons of the Old and New Worlds, belonging to the family Ardeidae. Before they were protected by law the birds were nearly exterminated by hunters seeking their beautiful, white, silky plumage called aigrettes, used in millinery. These feathers develop during the breeding season. In the American egret the plumes are straight, about 21 in. (52.5 cm) long, growing on the back. The smaller snowy egret, or snowy heron ( Leucophoyx thula ), the most beautiful and most hunted, has curved plumes on the back, head, and breast. The reddish egret ( Dichromanassa rufa ) is white part of the year, changing to grayish with brown head and neck. The greater and lesser egrets are European species. Egrets are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Herodiones, family Ardeidae.