Three Legged Crow or “Sam-Jok-Oh” in Korean 삼족오 (三足烏) was the symbol of ancient Goguryeo 고구려. It’s origins part of the ancient mythos of Korea, China and Japan* and is believe to either live near or represent the sun. The three legged black bird is found in a circle which represents the sun.
Even though Sam-Jok-Oh means “Three Legged Crow” There’s actually still some scholarly debate as to exactly what kind of bird it is. Let me explain. The word “Sam-Jok-Oh” means Three (삼 Sam) Leg (Jok 족), but the “Oh”(오) simply means “Black Bird” not necessarily a crow. Therefore, it could just as well have been a raven as much as it is a crow. Unfortunately we will never really know.
In ancient China, the three-legged bird representing the sun is called the Sanzuwu (三足烏). The three-legged bird is commonly thought of as a celestial rooster with golden feather, but the bird also appears in the “Huainanzi,” or “The Masters of Huainan,” which contains the sentence, “A crow is in the sun.”
In Japanese mythology, there is a flying bird creature, thought to be a raven, called the Yatagarasu (八咫烏). The three legged raven is used to represent heaven’s will or divine intervention. Although the meaning is “eight legged crow” the Yatagarasu is often pictured in artwork as a three-legged bird.
Korea’s history with the the three-legged crow is the most deeply rooted and are the most intertwined. The Sam-Jok-Oh was used as the symbol of the Goguryeo kingdom. The highest concentration of three-legged bird depictions have been found in tombs located throughout the former Goguryeo Kingdom
(present day North Korea through Manchuria). The ancient people of Goguryeo highly regarded the Sam-Jok-Oh as a symbol of power. It was thought to be more superior to both the dragon and the phoenix. They believed that a three three-legged crow lived in the sun while a turtle lived in the moon.
There are also other theories as to why there was such a deep rooted connection with the Sam-Jok-Oh and the ancient people of Goguryeo Scholars believe it may have also been a symbol of GoJoseon. According to Seoul National University’s professor emeritus Shin Yong-ha, they were the three sun gods symbolizing Hwanin, the legendary Lord of Heaven, his son Hwanung, and Dangun, Hwanung’s son and the founder of Gojoseon.
Today, the Institute for Traditional Korea Culture Studies defines the three-legged crow as a symbol of heaven, earth and man, and a messenger of the Korean soul.
*Wikipedia sites that it can also be found in tombs of Ancient Egypt, but to date, I have not been able to find any supporting evidence of this. Most cultures have some sort of mythos around ravens or crows, but only China, Korea and Japan share specifically around one that is three-legged. I would be interested to know if there are in fact any other cultures out there that share this myth.