Three-legged bird

The three-legged (or "tripedal") bird is a creature found in various mythologies of Asia, Asia Minor, and North Africa. It is often thought to inhabit and represent the sun.

The creature has been featured in myths from Egypt, where it appears on wall murals. It has also been found figured on ancient coins from Lycia and Pamphylia.

Sun Bird in East Asian Mythologies

In East Asian mythologies the three-legged bird is most often associated with the sun.


In Chinese mythology, the sun is in the form of a three-legged golden crow (金烏/金乌). According to folklore, there were originally ten sun birds, residing in a mulberry tree in the eastern sea; each day one of the sun birds would be rostered to travel around the world on a carriage, driven by Xihe (deity) the 'mother' of the suns.

Folklore also held that, at around 2170 BC, all ten sun birds came out on the same day, causing the world to burn; Houyi the archer saved the day by shooting down all but one of the sun birds. (See Mid-Autumn Festival#Stories of the Mid-Autumn Festival for variants of this legend.)


In Japanese mythology, the creature is a raven or a Jungle Crow called Yatagarasu (八咫烏), which is the bird of the sun goddess Amaterasu. The Yatagarasu appears in the Japanese ancient document called the Kojiki (古事記) where it was called upon to choke a beast attempting to devour the sun and as the protector to Emperor Jimmu. On many occasions, it appears in art as a three-legged bird, although there is no description stating that the Yatagarasu was three-legged in the Kojiki. The three-legged version of the Yatagarasu is used as the emblem of the Japan Football Association today.


In Korean mythology, it is known as Samjogo "Kari-sae" (hangul: 삼족오; hanja: 三足烏). During the period of the Koguryo Kingdom, the Samjogo was a highly regarded symbol of power, thought superior to both the dragon and the Korean phoenix. The three-legged bird is one of several emblems under consideration to replace the phoenix in the Korean seal of state when it is revised in 2008. The Samjogo is considered a symbol of Goguryeo.

Western Culture

In Western Culture, there are not any well-known three legged birds in mythology. However, in three-legged birds, there is a comical story about a chicken with three legs. As similar to many mythologies the presence of more legs is considered to mean that the animal can run faster, and this is the basis of the story. The story usually starts by describing either a man on a train, a man in a new sportscar or a man jogging down a country road. As the man travels nice and easy, he sees a chicken alongside him. It's legs are flickering furiously underneath it as it races, all the while clucking ' . . . buk-buk-buk-buk-buk . . . ' with each footfall. The man is amazed by this, and so runs faster, speeds up his car or attempts to move faster to outrun the chicken. The chicken falls behind for a moment and the man feels a sense of pride, until he hears the ' . . . buk-buk-buk-buk-buk ' as it catches up. The man is amazed now, but decides I'm not getting outdone by a chicken and so absolutely floors it, goes as fast as he can. But just as before, the chicken catches up to him, and in fact continues to go faster and outruns him, speeding off down the road. The man sees the chicken race down into a farm and run across the field and so he does what he can to follow it. As he enters the farm a voice calls to him, "Excuse me sir, what do you think you're doing in my yard?" The man sees the farm owner and says "Did you see that chicken?" the farmer replies "Well yep, sure did." the man says, "It was running so fast, how does it do that?" "Well," says the farmer "I breed them that way, that there is a three-legged chicken." "Woah. Why do you breed three-legged chickens?" asks the man, "Well I like a leg," says the farmer "And my wife likes a leg and my son likes a leg. So, I breed three-legged chickens." "Interesting . . ." says the man "What do they taste like?" "Well, I dunno," says the farmer "Never caught one yet."

Three-legged Fènghuáng in Chinese Mythology

In Chinese mythology, the Fènghuáng (鳳凰/凤凰) is believed to be the Chinese counterpart to the three legged bird, which can be traced back 7000 years within Chinese art and literature. According to scripture Erya - chapter 17 Shiniao, Fenghuang is said to be made up of the beak of a rooster, the face of a swallow, the forehead of a fowl, the neck of a snake, the breast of a goose, the back of a tortoise, the hindquarters of a stag and the tail of a fish. Although it is commonly depicted as being two legged, there are some instances in art in which it has a three legged appearance. The tripedal version is first illustrated in the icongraphy of the Xi Wangmu (Queen Mother of the West) in Han-period religious art. In the Yong Tai Tomb dating to the Tang Dynasty Era, it is also shown as three-legged bird.



See also

it: Uccello con tre zampe

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