Barn owls localize a stationary auditory target with high accuracy. They might also be able to hit a target that is intermittently moving while the owl is approaching. If so, there should be a critical delay before strike initiation, up to which the owl can adapt its flight path to a new stimulus position. In this study, this critical stimulus delay was determined in a three-dimensional free-flight paradigm. Barn owls localized a pulsed broadband noise while sitting on a perch in total darkness. This initial signal stopped with the owl's take-off and an in-flight stimulus (target sound), lasting 200 ms, was introduced at variable time delays (300-1200 ms) during the approximate flight time of 1300 ms. The owls responded to the in-flight signal with a corrective head and body turn. The percentage of trials in which correction turns occurred (40-80%) depended upon the individual bird, but was independent of the stimulus delay within a range of 800 ms after take-off. Correction turns strongly decreased at delays >or=800 ms. The landing precision of the owls, defined as their distance to the in-flight speaker, did not decrease with increasing stimulus delay, but decreased if the owl failed to perform a correction turn towards that speaker. Landing precision was higher for a short (50 cm) than for a large (100 cm) distance between the initial and the new target. Thus, the ability of barn owls to adapt their flight path to a new sound target depends on the in-flight stimulus delay, as well as on the distance between initial and novel targets.