Filopodial dynamics are thought to control growth cone guidance, but the types and roles of growth cone dynamics underlying neural circuit assembly in a living brain are largely unknown. To address this issue, we have developed long-term, continuous, fast and high-resolution imaging of growth cone dynamics from axon growth to synapse formation in cultured Drosophila brains. Using R7 photoreceptor neurons as a model we show that >90% of the growth cone filopodia exhibit fast, stochastic dynamics that persist despite ongoing stepwise layer formation. Correspondingly, R7 growth cones stabilize early and change their final position by passive dislocation. N-Cadherin controls both fast filopodial dynamics and growth cone stabilization. Surprisingly, loss of N-Cadherin causes no primary targeting defects, but destabilizes R7 growth cones to jump between correct and incorrect layers. Hence, growth cone dynamics can influence wiring specificity without a direct role in target recognition and implement simple rules during circuit assembly.