The ornate chamber of the Marylan

enate erupted yesterday in human chirps and gentle cries of "Chick, chick, chick," and when the animal noises ended -- and the votes were counted -- a pet project of Sen. Larry Levitan (D-Montgomery) had died.

"I'll never put that bill in again," Levitan said after falling three votes shy of Senate approval for his bill encouraging Maryland taxpayers to donate to conservation causes.

The so-called "chickadee check-off," which Levitan had pushed for the past five years, died on a 21-to-20 vote after opponents attacked the measure as one that would make the state "a professional fundraiser."

The bill would have authorized the state government to include in Maryland tax returns a pamphlet listing environmental causes, such as a fund to save endangered animal species, worthy of voluntary donations.

The General Assembly approved similar legislation last year, but Gov. Harry Hughes vetoed it after Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs declared a portion unconstitutional.

The United Way of Maryland lobbied against the legislation, saying the state should not place itself in competition with private, nonprofit fundraising groups. The Maryland Chamber of Commerce was opposed to the bill for the same reason.

"It's a bad precedent and makes bad policy," said Sen. John A. Cade (R-Anne Arundel) during a brief floor debate yesterday. "It's time to end the struggle and kill the bill."

The Senate did.