The establishment of viral pathogens in new host environments following spillover events probably requires adaptive changes within both the new host and pathogen. After many generations, signals for ancient cross-species transmission may become lost and a strictly host-adapted phylogeny may mimic true co-divergence while the virus may retain an inherent ability to jump host species. The mechanistic basis for such processes remains poorly understood. To study the dynamics of virus–host co-divergence and the arbitrary chances of spillover in various reservoir hosts with equal ecological opportunity, we examined structural constraints of capsid protein in extant populations of Beak and feather disease virus (BFDV) during known spillover events. By assessing reservoir-based genotype stratification, we identified co-divergence defying signatures in the evolution BFDV which highlighted primordial processes of cryptic host adaptation and competing forces of host co-divergence and cross-species transmission. We demonstrate that, despite extensive surface plasticity gathered over a longer span of evolution, structural constraints of the capsid protein allow opportunistic host switching in host-adapted populations. This study provides new insights into how small populations of endangered psittacine species may face multidirectional forces of infection from reservoirs with apparently co-diverging genotypes.