Thunderbird is Ubuntu’s default e-mail client but it’s not the most well integrated of tools — at least, not by default.

For instance, some Linux apps (e.g., Telegram) show an unread count on the Ubuntu dock while the app is running. This makes it easy to see, for instance, how many unread messages you have. Thunderbird doesn’t do this.

But this is open source software, so you’re not out of options.

One way to keep tabs on new mail as it arrives in Thunderbird is to install the Birdtray tool. BirdTray is free, open source software that’s available to install straight from the Ubuntu repos (though it’s also available on Flathub, if you’d rather).

It can do a number of different things, but the main lure for me is that Birdtray shows an unread email counter in Ubuntu’s top bar. This means I can see how much mail is piling up for me at a glance, without switching to the app itself:

BirdTray’s (very configurable) unread count

You get a fair bit of control over the appearance of the unread count, with the ability to set the font, colour, stroke, and opacity. You can even set different font colors for different email accounts, e.g., red for unread work emails, blue for unread personal emails, or green when both have unread items.

Other Birdtray features:

  • Support for multiple email accounts
  • Close Thunderbird to tray icon
  • Animate tray icon when new mail is received
  • Snooze new mail notifications for a specific time period
  • Open Thunderbird when Birdtray starts (and exit when Birdtray quits)
  • Let you know if Thunderbird is closed
  • Quick link to create “New Email” (with template support)

Naturally you do need to be an avid user of Thunderbird to get much use out of BirdTray (meaning no, it won’t function as a standalone email notification tool). But it is chock-full of settings and options to tailor its behaviour to suit your own needs.

BirdTray settings

The app is not a Thunderbird extension, and reads the Thunderbird database directly to stay updated. This, its developers say make it immune to any future extension API changes in Thunderbird itself.

But if you love using Thunderbird and you want a tray icon to notify you of new mail, unread count, and more, I highly recommending giving this nifty little bolt-on a try.

To install it on Ubuntu 18.04 LTS and above run:

sudo apt install birdtray

Then launch the ‘Birdtray’ app listed in the Applications screen.

Apps birdtray email client thunderbird