Birdtray: Thunderbird Tray Icon With New Email Notifications For Linux (Firetray Alternative)


Birdtray adds a system tray icon for Thunderbird email client on Linux (Xorg), which shows the unread email count. Besides this, Birdtray supports snoozing new email notifications, configure for which accounts / email folders to notify of new emails, and more.

FireTray and other solutions to add a tray icon for Thunderbird that displays an unread email count stopped working with Thunderbird 60. Birdtray checks the unread email status directly by reading the Thunderbird email search database, which makes it immune to Thunderbird API changes. As a result, Birdtray is a great Firetray alternative that shouldn't break on Thunderbird updates.

The tool needs Qt5 (5.6 or higher) and is currently considered alpha software.

Birdtray features:

  • Thunderbird tray icon with unread email counter
  • The tray icon can flash when new emails are received
  • Configurable accounts / mail folder for which it should check for new emails
  • Configurable unread count font colors for different email accounts
  • Can hide and restore the Thunderbird window by double clicking on the tray icon or from the tray icon context menu
  • Can automatically start Thunderbird when launching Birdtray and close Thunderbird when exiting the tray icon
  • Configurable tray icon
  • Can detect if Thunderbird was accidentally closed
  • Allows adding pre-configured email templates to the tray for quick access (New Email tab in Birdtray - requires restarting Birdtray after adding new pre-configured emails)

I had some issues with the latest Birdtray release, but this is fixed in Git by implementing another way of detecting new email messages, so it's probably better to install the latest Birdtray from Git.

Also, if you enable the Hide Thunderbird window when its minimized option, you may see the Hide Thunderbird tray menu option even when Thunderbird is hidden. This bug has been reported and it will probably be fixed soon. Update: this bug has been fixed in Birdtray 1.3.

It should also be noted that it can take a few seconds until the tray icon notifies you about new emails, because Thunderbird needs to update the database before Birdtray can "see" that a new email has arrived.

How to install Birdtray in Ubuntu or Linux Mint (PPA)

I decided to create a PPA for the packages I use personally. Since I like to use up to date software, I tend to update the packages I use frequently, and this way others can make use of them as well. I intend to only upload packages that aren't available in the Ubuntu repositories to this PPA.

Birdtray requires Qt 5.6 or newer, and since Ubuntu 16.04 has Qt 5.5.1, I couldn't build it in the PPA for this Ubuntu version. So you'll only find Birdtray packages for Ubuntu 19.04, 18.10 and 18.04 / Linux Mint 19 in the PPA.

You can add the PPA and install Birdtray (from Git) in Ubuntu 18.04, 18.10 and 19.04, or Linux Mint 19, by using these commands:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:linuxuprising/apps
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt install birdtray

As an alternative, you can download the DEB packages from here if you don't want to add the PPA.

If you want to build Birdtray from source you'll need to install the x11extras and libsqlite3 (-dev) packages. Remove the .qmake.stash file from the src/ folder before trying to compile Birdtray, because it causes the build to fail on some systems. You can find build instructions on the Birdtray project page on GitHub.

How to configure Birdtray Thunderbird tray icon

The first thing you'll need to do is to add your Thunderbird profile in Birdtray. To do this, launch Birdtray and from the tray icon menu select Settings. On the General tab, click Browse next to select your Thunderbird profile. This is usually found in the hidden .thunderbird folder (press Ctrl + H in the file browser to show hidden files and folders, or right click and select Show hidden files) from your home directory, and has a name of some random letters and numbers followed by .default, as you can see in the screenshot at the top of this article.

After you're done adding your Thunderbird profile, go to the Accounts tab, click Add and select the accounts and mail folders for which you want to be notified when receiving new emails. You can add multiple accounts / folders, each with its own notification text color.

That's all you need to do to get Birdtray to work. You may want to change some of its other settings though, to suit your needs.

In case you can't get Birdtray to notify of new unread emails, you can try changing the Unread notification parser option from sqlite to mork (this option can be found on the Advanced tab in the Birdtray settings). You can also try changing the font color and font size (the default settings may be hard to notice).


  1. Due to hungry resource usage of Birdtray, a user on Manjaro Forums created "tbtray"
    See here:

    An early personal project, but might be worth keeping an eye on.

    1. By the way, the CPU usage on my desktop is under 1% (~0.7%) using Birdtray from Git.


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